Arizona Redistricting Case

A recent decision (explained here) by an Arizona court may well presage disputes that would arise in Ohio if Issue 4 were to become law. The tension between keeping districts ‘competitive’ – an emphasis in both the Arizona and Ohio redistricting schemes – while also taking into consideration certain racial and geographic demographics, has the potential to cause more than a few problems.

If Issue 4 were to pass in Ohio redistricted maps would, generally, be as competitive as possible given some basic parameters (see a comprehensive discussion here). When Arizona instituted its redistricting plan in 2001 the aims were similar to those of Issue 4 but competitiveness was but one of six major factors to be considered. Among the other factors in the Arizona scheme was a desire to keep district populations relatively uniform, district boundaries geographically compact and contiguous and to use visible features or municipal lines as boundaries. While Ohio’s Issue 4 takes some of these elements into consideration it does not do so in near the coequal way that Arizona’s system does.

The other major difference between the Ohio system and the Arizona system, which has been in place for two election cycles now, is that in Arizona the redistricting is done wholly by a non-partisan committee. In Ohio there would also be a non-partisan committee but the redistricted map would come from whatever person or entity submitted the most successful plan.

A trial court in Arizona declared in January of 2004 that the state commission charged with drawing the redistricted map had failed to consider the requisite emphasis on competitiveness. In this most recent development an Arizona court of appeals reversed that decision on a technical legal ground – the court found that the trial court had used the wrong standard of review – and sent the case back down to the trial court for further review. What that means in actual terms for Arizona is that the map drawn by the commission stands until another trial is held using the instructions of the appellate court. This complaint would be unlikely in Ohio if Issue 4 were to pass simply because Ohio’s commission would be less involved in creating the redistricted map and more involved in simply refereeing the creations of others. That certainly doesn’t mean there won’t be complaints in Ohio. It means that the complaints will be of a different nature.

That brings up another major difference between the two systems: in Ohio, complaints about redistricting would not be heard by either a trial court or intermediate court of appeals, as happened in Arizona. The Supreme Court of Ohio, under the system proposed by RON, will have original jurisdiction over matters related to redistricting. Issue 4 further restricts the judiciary by disallowing any tinkering with plans by the court; instead, the court can only direct the commission to perform its duties as outlined in the amendment. What this means in practical terms is that the protracted – but perfectly natural – litigation taking place in Arizona would be mostly avoided.

If Issue 4 passes on November 8th and the redistricting scheme is put to work before the 2008 election there are bound to be objections by some Ohio citizens or groups. How the Ohio Supreme Court treats this new constitutional provision remains to be seen.