By Braden Pelley
The U.S. Supreme Court paved the way Monday for Indiana and other states to use independent commissions to draw legislative and congressional district maps.
The nation’s highest court ruled that the U.S. Constitution’s elections clause allows a state to use a commission, even if it operates outside the legislature, to establish congressional districts.
Indiana lawmakers are studying that issue this summer with the aim of creating an independent commission before the next redistricting occurs in 2021.
The court’s decision came in a case out of Arizona, where voters used a ballot initiative process to create a commission. The legislature sued, challenging the maps the commission created for the 2012 congressional elections, saying that the constitution requires state legislatures to approve the maps.
But in a 5-4 decision, the court on Monday disagreed.
It said disallowing the commission would “run up against the Constitution’s animating principle that the people themselves are the originating source of all the powers of government.”
The goal of independent commissions is try to take the politics and gerrymandering out of the redistricting process and therefore lessen the ability of a majority political party to draw maps that help keep them in power.
“The process will ultimately take the process away from the legislature, “said Julia Vaughn, policy director for Common Cause Indiana, “and put it in the hands of voters.”
In Indiana, a commission would need approval from the General Assembly because the state doesn’t have a ballot initiative process as Arizona does. In addition, the Indiana Constitution requires that the legislature approve district lines for the state House and Senate every 10 years.
But legislative leaders have said they’re prepared to tackle those issues.
Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, said Monday that it’s hope the legislature’s redistricting study committee “takes a hard look at the process, how we can improve it, and make this a reality before 2020.”
“Not only is this possible, it’s what Hoosier voters deserve,” he said.
Currently, eight states use outside commissions for redistricting.
“The end goal of the redistricting process should not be to benefit one party or the other,” Lanane said. “Rather, the goal of redistricting should be to create more competitive democratic elections and restore confidence of Hoosiers and the integrity of the electoral process.”
Braden Pelley is a reporter for TheStatehousefile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students.