Congressman Lowenthal Leads Bipartisan Amicus Brief To Supreme Court Defending Voters’ and States’ Rights

January 27, 2015
Press Release

Congressman Alan Lowenthal (CA-47) has spearheaded an effort—garnering the support of 19 other Members of Congress—to submit a bipartisan Congressional amicus brief with the United States Supreme Court (SCOTUS) supporting the right of citizens to determine how federal elections are conducted in their individual states and defending the Constitutional authority of the federal government to make or alter regulations related to the "time, place, and manner' of Congressional elections.

The amicus brief, filed January 23 in support of the Arizona Redistricting Commission in the SCOTUS case of Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, was co-signed by 10 other Congressional Democrats and nine Congressional Republicans representing districts across the nation from California to New York and from Washington to Florida.

"I led the effort with my colleagues—including invaluable help from across the aisle from Rep. Dana Rohrabacher—to bring this amicus brief to the Supreme Court because of the critical importance of this case. The implications of the Supreme Court's decision will affect not only the citizens of California, but every person in this nation," Congressman Lowenthal said.

The Arizona case involves a referendum passed by voters in Arizona which set up an independent redistricting commission to take redrawing of congressional districts out of the hands the Arizona legislature, in an effort to make the redistricting process non-partisan and to combat gerrymandering.

Between Arizona's creation as a state in 1912, until 2000, the state constitution vested the authority to draw the lines of congressional districts to the state legislature, with the governor having veto power. In 2000, Arizona voters approved an amendment to the state constitution that placed the district-drawing power in the hands of an independent, five-member body.

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 explicitly and exclusively provides the power of setting election laws to the individual state legislatures, unless Congress weighs in.

Article I, Section 4 of the Constitution, known as the Elections Clause, reads "The times, places and manner of holding elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by law make or alter such regulations, except as to the places of choosing Senators."

"If the court views the Constitution's Elections Clause to prohibit the use of referenda, even after Congress has affirmed the use of referenda to redistrict, all voter-initiated election reform laws may be invalidated," Congressman Lowenthal said. "For us in California, that would mean, among other things, the end of our hard-fought Citizens Redistricting Commission and putting the map-drawing back into the hands of self-interested politicians."

In supporting the constitutionality of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, the amicus brief makes these arguments:

· 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.

Read the full amicus brief by clicking here.

Additional quotes from signers of the amicus brief:

Rep. Julia Brownley (CA-26)

"Districts drawn by incumbents to protect their jobs makes politicians less accountable to their constituents and more accountable to the special interests, which has eroded public trust and contributed to a deep and intractable dysfunction in Congress. In California, we have experienced firsthand that a non-partisan, citizen-driven redistricting process is not only possible, but that its success makes it imperative for other states to follow our lead to ensure that our government is ‘of the people, for the people, by the people.' The Supreme Court ruling in the case of Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission could have far reaching consequences, undermining state laws in California, and in other states, that have adopted citizen redistricting commissions to eliminate partisan gerrymandering."

Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09)
"Elected officials should focus on effectively and equitably representing their constituents, not merely winning partisan battles. 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."

Rep. Rodney Davis (IL-13)
"Unfortunately, redistricting has become a political tool used, by both parties, to gain power and increase control," said Davis. "By allowing independent commissions who were chosen by voters to determine redistricting, we can help states take politics out of the equation and form districts that better reflect the interests of its citizens."

Rep. Alan Grayson (FL-09)
"In a democracy, the voters are supposed to choose the legislators, not vice versa."

Rep. Derek Kilmer (WA-06)
"The American people want to see us get this Congress back on track. A key way to do that is by encouraging states to adopt independent redistricting commissions so we can have healthier debates in our elections and a more functional and productive Congress. I joined my colleagues in signing this bipartisan brief to the Supreme Court because we don't believe it's right to limit this vital method for moving us past partisanship and on the road to progress."

Rep. David Price (NC-04)
"In North Carolina, we are very familiar with the damage that can be done when politicians abuse the redistricting process. Too often, state legislators draw maps that put party before people, making our politics more polarized and our government less effective. I hope the Supreme Court will stand with Arizona voters and draw a clear line between party politics and representative democracy."

The full list of signers to the amicus brief:

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.)
Dana Rohrabacher (R-Cal.)