The fate of congressional districts and elections around the country may hang on how the Supreme Court defines "legislature"—an argument that came to a head Monday in a clash between the Supreme Court's liberal and conservative wings.
At issue is whether Arizona violated the U.S. Constitution when voters stripped the state Legislature of the power to draw congressional districts, instead handing that authority to an independent commission. The move was intended to reduce gerrymandering, but it has been mired in legal controversy since the commission started its work after the last census.
And now, if the Court rules that the law doesn't past constitutional muster, it would likely not only invalidate Arizona's districts, but also those of a handful of other states—including California—that have also put redistricting authority in the hands of independent commissions.
In oral arguments Monday, attorneys for the state Legislature and the commission sparred over whether Arizona's system was in keeping with a provision of the Constitution that says state election procedures "shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof."
The commission's attorneys are arguing for a broad definition, saying that "legislature" refers generally to the powers that make laws in a state. "Arizona defines its Legislature in its constitution to include both the people and two representative bodies," said Seth Waxman, a solicitor general under President Clinton and the commission's counsel of record.