By a 5-4 vote, the United States Supreme Court turned back challenges to partisan re-districting, claiming the issue of gerrymandering was a political question outside the purview of the court. For those activists around the country who feel the drawing of electoral districts offer unfair representation as created by the party in power in state legislatures, California’s citizens’ redistricting commission may serve as a model. In light of the court’s decision, former California Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, intends to push that model forward. 

California voters passed Proposition 11 in 2008 to set up a commission to do the decennial redrawing of districts, taking power from legislators. The idea of a citizens’ commission to draw fairer lines than politicians has spread to other states with ballot victories most recently in Michigan, Utah, Colorado and Missouri. 

Even prior to California’s Proposition 11, an Arizona initiative created a re-districting commission, which faced a constitutional challenge by that state’s legislature but the U.S. Supreme Court batted that lawsuit aside in 2015, preserving the California commission in the process. 

The court’s recent decision looked at a partisan Democratic re-districting in Maryland and a partisan Republican re-districting in North Carolina. In his majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts acknowledged that “partisanship in districting leads to results that reasonably seem unjust.” However, he stated that since the Constitution gave no standards on how to determine fairness in the process, the question facing the court was “political. Not legal.”

Roberts added that given the political nature of re-districting, other avenues existed for reform, expressly stating that, “Both the states and Congress can take action – for example, by establishing independent redistricting commissions to draw maps.”

Former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was a supporter of Proposition 11 while in office and a strong advocate for re-districting reform since he left the governor’s chair. His Schwarzenegger Institute at the University of Southern California has offered academic and resource support for re-districting reforms.

Following yesterday’s Supreme Court decision, Conyers Davis, Global Director of the Schwarzenegger Institute said, “This is a setback but it will renew efforts for reform commissions to get this done.”

He said Schwarzenegger would contribute both time and fundraising efforts personally to support attempts to establish independent commissions noting that efforts are already moving ahead in Arkansas, Pennsylvania and Oregon.

But Davis acknowledged there is only so much that can be done through the initiative process in establishing independent commissions since only half the states have the initiative process. That’s why the Institute plans to pursue educational campaigns to help citizens convince legislators to create independent commissions, he said.

Ironically, the initiative process itself was challenged as being unconstitutional in a 1912 case out of Oregon and the U.S. Supreme Court at that time side stepped the matter by declaring, as this court did in the gerrymandering case, that the issue was non-justiciable—a political question.