Cohen, Cooper Join Bipartisan Supreme Court Amicus Brief in Arizona Redistricting Case

Press release from U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn. 09; January 27, 2015:

[WASHINGTON, DC] – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice, this week joined 19 other Members of Congress in filing a bipartisan amicus brief in the Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission case scheduled to be heard by the Supreme Court later this year. The amicus brief, which was signed by 10 other Democrats and 9 Republicans, supports the right of citizens to determine how federal elections are conducted in their individual states and defends the federal government’s Constitutional authority to make or alter regulations related to the “time, place, and manner” of Congressional elections.

“Elected officials should focus on effectively and equitably representing their constituents, not merely winning partisan battles,” said Congressman Cohen.“Unfortunately, in seeking to overturn the decisions of a non-partisan, independent commission endorsed overwhelmingly by the voters of their state, Arizona’s Republican leaders have chosen a different path. This meritless lawsuit misrepresents the Founder’s intentions, puts partisanship above people, and merely underscores the urgent need to get politics out of the redistricting process. The people of Arizona voted to eliminate gerrymandering, and the Supreme Court should respect their choice.”

The Arizona case centers on a referendum passed by Arizona voters in 2000 which, in an effort to make the redistricting process non-partisan and to combat gerrymandering, set up an independent, five-member redistricting commission to take redrawing of congressional districts out of the hands the Arizona legislature. In 2012, after the independent commission carried out its duty for the second time following the 2010 Census, the Arizona State Legislature sued, arguing that the U.S. Constitution’s Elections Clause grants the power of setting election laws explicitly and exclusively to the individual state legislatures, a misinterpretation of the language.

In supporting the constitutionality of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, the bipartisan Congressional amicus brief reiterates that:

  • Congress has broad and express Constitutional authority to regulate the time, place, and manner of congressional elections,
  • For more than 170 years, Congress has done so in a way that supports the people of Arizona to form a redistricting commission,
  • Congress has in fact weighed in and has said in federal statute that states’ redistricting can be done by more than the State Legislature proper,
  • The use of an independent commission for districting is consistent with, and supports, core principles of federalism reflected in the Constitution and the Elections Clause itself, which seek to ensure a direct link between national representatives and the People,
  • The use of an independent commission is an important, democracy-promoting development that will help reduce negative effects of severe partisan gerrymandering.

Congressman Cohen also reintroduced his Tanner Fairness and Independence in Redistricting (FAIR) Act, which would bring an Arizona-style independent redistricting commission to every state, earlier this month. His legislation would take the decennial congressional apportionment process, which often leads to partisan gerrymandering, out of the hands of politicians and give it to an independent redistricting commission.

“It’s time to take politics out of the redistricting process,” said Congressman Cohen when introducing the John Tanner FAIR Act. “Congress is so polarized today that we’re unable to find common ground on the major issues facing our country.  Instead of solving our nation’s problems, Congress is just kicking the can down the road and waiting until the next election for answers.  I believe that if we eliminate the gerrymandering of districts we will help get more accomplished for our country.”

The John Tanner FAIR Act was championed for many years by former Congressman John Tanner and was introduced in the 112th Congress by former Congressman Heath Shuler. Beginning after the 2020 census, it would require each state to appoint an independent and transparent congressional redistricting commission. The commission would be charged with creating a redistricting plan that emphasizes geographical contiguity and compactness of districts rather than political affiliations or the impact a district’s lines may have on incumbent representatives.

The Congresspeople signing on to the Arizona amicus brief include: Julia Brownley (D-Cal.),Ken Calvert (R-Cal.), Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), Rodney Davis (R-Ill.),Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), Alan Grayson (D-Fla.), Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.), Duncan D. Hunter (R-Cal.), Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.), Zoe Lofgren (D-Cal.), Alan Lowenthal (D-Cal.), Tom McClintock (R-Cal.), Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), Beto O’Rourke (D-Tex.), David E. Price (D-N.C.), Tom Reed (R-N.Y.), Reid Ribble (R-Wis.), and Dana Rohrabacher (R-Cal.).