The United States Supreme Court is poised to make a decision in an Arizona case that may have serious implications for California Congressional Districts.
In 2000, Arizona voters passed an initiative that removed redistricting powers from the state legislature and placed it in the hands of an independent appointed commission. This effort was designed to reduce partisan political involvement in the redistricting process.
While there is no question that state legislative districts can be designed however states wish them to within certain Constitutional guidelines, Congressional Districts are defined in the United States Constitution. Specifically the United States Constitution says that state legislatures shall create congressional districts. Following the discussions before the court, it appears the conservative wing of the court may impose a literal interpretation and overturn the Arizona congressional districts.
This is where California comes in. California created a similar independent commission a few years back. If the Arizona initiative is overturned, California’s may be as well. Thus both Arizona and California may have only a few months to redistrict congressional seats prior to filing deadlines next March. This may have profound implications for all of California, but particularly for the Inland Empire where none of our current delegation has served longer than two terms.
When the California State Legislature redistricts legislative seats, great preference has always been given to long term incumbents from both parties with significant seniority in the House of Representatives. Right or wrong, Representatives with seniority and plum committee assignments in the House of Representatives can “bring home the bacon” to their districts and the State. This is why little deference will be given new Congressmen from the Inland Empire by the rest of California.
After the last redistricting in 2010, no deference was given to incumbents. Long term incumbents in Los Angeles were grouped into the same districts and where defeated, while new districts in San Bernardino and Riverside Counties had mostly no incumbents and elected new members with no institutional experience or “bacon” power.
Congressional Representatives Pete Aguilar, Paul Cook, Steve Knight, Raul Ruiz, and Mark Takano can expect little deference, other than partisan concessions. Each of these newer members can expect their districts to be squeezed or eliminated altogether, pushing them into races against each other or into areas they have not represented before. Any or all should expect serious challenges as the political parties determine which seats to defend or challenge, from the other party and from within their own party ranks.
On the positive side, the 2010 redistricting was seen by most experts to have been a haphazard exercise that ignored regional and local communities of interest, and county and city boundaries. There was literally no rhyme or reason other than population for the boundaries that the redistricting commission drew. The redistricting in 1990 and 2000 on the other hand were far more reasonable and logical, and were actually done by California’s partisan legislature.
One other repercussion from the Arizona case is that there is a danger, although slight, that the top-two primary system in California could be overturned depending on the breadth of the court decision. This would reinstitute the party primaries that had been in place for decades in California. If this occurs expect an absolute free for all among partisan Democrats and Republicans, particularly in the seats now held by Congressmen Paul Cook and Pete Aguilar who barely survived their primary elections in 2012 and 2014 respectively.
What do all of these potential changes mean for the Inland Empire: election chaos. Pay close attention to the Supreme Court this week.