The Justice Kennedy — (Speaker?) McCarthy Connection

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

 

The unexpected vote by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy on the Arizona redistricting case earlier this year may mean a much longer stint as Speaker of the House for Bakersfield’s Kevin McCarthy–should he get the job.

Recall the case from Arizona in which the state legislature challenged the state’s independent redistricting commission arguing that the United States Constitution only permits state legislatures to determine, “The Times, Places, and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives?”

If the court sided with the Arizona legislature every onlooker believed that California’s independent redistricting commission would be invalidated with the job of drawing congressional districts going back to the state’s legislature.

If that scenario played out a number of observers thought that mischievous Democrats, who would draw up new district lines, might endanger Kevin McCarthy’s congressional seat.

Analyst Tony Quinn on this site even sketched out a couple of scenarios in which McCarthy’s district could be drawn to make things difficult for re-election. As Quinn wrote at the time, “The seat most at risk is that of House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield).  Is there any reason Democrats should play nice with him?”

I wrote in March when the Arizona case was heard before the court that Governor Jerry Brown, who has leverage over redistricting plans by virtue of his veto pen, might be inclined to pressure the legislature to punish McCarthy because the congressman was at odds with the governor over a number of issues, especially funding for the governor’s pet project, the High Speed Rail.

When the Arizona case was argued before the court it was reported that the more conservative justices seemed to side with the Arizona legislature over the redistricting committee. The Washington Post reported on the court hearing that, “The questioning largely broke down along the court’s ideological fault lines, with liberals more supportive of the commission and conservatives sharply questioning Waxman (the attorney for the redistricting commission). And unfortunately for him, the latter group included Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who often holds the balance on the court.”

Kennedy told the attorney, “That history works very much against you.”

Other news outlets reported Kennedy was skeptical of the redistricting commission’s position.

Yet, when the decision came down in June, the court supported the independent redistricting commission on a 5 to 4 vote with Kennedy’s swing vote for the affirmative making the difference.

Little did anyone know at that time that one justice from California might have buttressed the case for a California congressman to become Speaker of the House of Representatives. If the decision had gone the other way the subject of McCarthy’s potential vulnerability the next time the Democratic majority drew district lines (which could have been well before the decennial census because of the court decision) may have been an issue in the speakership contest.

As it is, we are in one of those strange political circumstances in which a conservative representative hailing from one of the bluest states could become the next Speaker of the House.

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