How the Supreme Court Could Change Congressional Maps in Arizona (and Other States)

A Supreme Court decision could strike down political boundaries in states where independent commissions draw the lines. Here’s an example of how partisan legislators could benefit.

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Stephanie Stamm and Jack Fitzpatrick
June 24, 2015, 8:14 a.m.

The U.S. Su­preme Court could rule as soon as Thursday on wheth­er in­de­pend­ent re­dis­trict­ing com­mis­sions are un­con­sti­tu­tion­al, pos­sibly strik­ing down sev­er­al states’ con­gres­sion­al maps and or­der­ing new ones to be drawn. Ari­zona’s Re­pub­lic­an-con­trolled le­gis­lature, which brought the law­suit in the first place, of­fers a clear ex­ample of how par­tis­ans could re-ger­ry­mander some con­gres­sion­al maps in the wake of the Court’s de­cision.

An al­tern­at­ive con­gres­sion­al map drawn in 2012 by then-state House Speak­er Andy To­bin, shared with Na­tion­al Journ­al by the Ari­zona Cen­ter for In­vest­ig­at­ive Re­port­ing, of­fers an ex­ample of the kind of map Ari­zona Re­pub­lic­ans could pass. Com­pared to the cur­rent map, To­bin’s al­tern­at­ive elim­in­ates one swing dis­trict, cur­rently held by Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, and turns it in­to safe Re­pub­lic­an ter­rit­ory. In total, it gives Re­pub­lic­ans five safe dis­tricts rather than the four they have cur­rently.

Rep. John Barrow, D-Ga., right, was one of the members of Congress most likely to vote against his own party in the past two years, along with Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz. National Journal
Republican-Drawn Redistricting Map of Arizona National Journal

As it stands now, Re­pub­lic­ans have a neg­li­gible 2.8-per­cent­age-point voter re­gis­tra­tion ad­vant­age in Sinema’s swing dis­trict based in the east­ern sub­urbs of Phoenix. In To­bin’s map, they would have a vir­tu­ally in­sur­mount­able 21.3-point ad­vant­age, while also main­tain­ing leads in all dis­tricts cur­rently held by Re­pub­lic­ans.

To­bin’s map ac­com­plishes this by re­du­cing Re­pub­lic­ans’ re­gis­tra­tion ad­vant­age in four oth­er dis­tricts, but still main­tain­ing a ma­jor­ity in each. In Re­pub­lic­an Rep. Paul Gos­ar’s dis­trict, for ex­ample, Re­pub­lic­ans’ ad­vant­age drops from 21.3 points to 15.4 points. Gos­ar could still eas­ily win reelec­tion, but it pushes a sig­ni­fic­ant num­ber of Re­pub­lic­an voters in­to an­oth­er dis­trict. The same goes for dis­tricts rep­res­en­ted by Re­pub­lic­an Reps. Dav­id Sch­weikert, Matt Sal­mon, and Trent Franks.

To­bin’s map is a help­ful il­lus­tra­tion, but it’s not a per­fect ex­ample of what to ex­pect. For starters, the state’s con­gres­sion­al del­eg­a­tion has changed since To­bin draf­ted the map in 2012. When this map was drawn, Demo­crat Ron Barber rep­res­en­ted the 2nd Dis­trict, which is now held by Re­pub­lic­an Rep. Martha Mc­Sally. Le­gis­lat­ors of­ten pri­or­it­ize pro­tect­ing in­cum­bents when draw­ing dis­trict lines, so they may choose to move more Re­pub­lic­ans in­to Mc­Sally’s Tuc­son-based dis­trict rather than Sinema’s.

(RE­LATED: Su­preme Court Watch­ers Are Tired of This Re­dis­trict­ing Case)

Demo­crat­ic Rep. Ann Kirk­patrick’s an­nounce­ment that she will run for Sen­ate may also make a dif­fer­ence. Des­pite Demo­crats’ 7.2-point re­gis­tra­tion ad­vant­age, Kirk­patrick’s rur­al, con­ser­vat­ive dis­trict of­ten fa­vors Re­pub­lic­ans and backed Mitt Rom­ney in 2012. With Kirk­patrick out of the pic­ture, le­gis­lat­ors may try to push this open seat fur­ther in­to Re­pub­lic­an hands rather than tar­get­ing Sinema.

(Also keep in mind that party re­gis­tra­tion has changed slightly since To­bin’s map was drawn, which ex­plains why the cur­rent map, with num­bers from Janu­ary 2015, shows a great­er num­ber of in­de­pend­ents in every dis­trict.)

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