“The Arizona Decision: Constitutional Reasoning Within the Reform Model”


The next few days of commentary on the Arizona redistricting decision will include the usual debate about which side had the better of the “legal argument.”   And, in truth, both the majority opinion and the chief (Roberts) dissent can be defended.  Each is effectively drawn, making the most of the materials available to it.  Each also takes the usual liberties with the construction of precedent and the standards by which particular points—an example being the majority’s reliance on 2 U.S.C. §2(a)(c)—are deemed relevant.  More interesting is the way that the majority weighs the reform objective.  The majority in the Arizona case adheres to a model familiar in political reform arguments more generally, within and outside the Court.

For this majority, the constitutional question cannot be considered apart from the reform objective served by the initiative creating the Independent Redistricting Commission.  The “people” are seen to be taking urgent steps to protect against officeholder self-interestedness. So, as Justice Thomas points out in dissent, the Court here lauds the exercise of direct democracy, which at other times is given the back of its hand.  The reason for the difference is simple: the objective that the tools of direct democracy have been in this case wielded to bring about.

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