Tuesday, June 30, 2015

At the Supreme Court, a Win for Direct Democracy

By RICHARD H. PILDES, NYT, JUNE 29, 2015

IN 2000, voters in Arizona adopted a state constitutional amendment that created an independent commission to draw congressional districts. But the commission immediately faced a legal challenge: the United States Constitution gives the power to state legislatures (and to Congress) to regulate national elections — not to the voters. Can the word “legislature” in the Constitution mean voters themselves?

That question eventually came before the Supreme Court, which on Monday ruled, in a 5-to-4 decision, that the Constitution permits states to let their voters use “direct democracy” — popular votes on ballot measures, known as voter initiatives — to regulate the rules for national elections.

Ten states give commissions a role in congressional districting, though aside from Arizona, only California has a fully autonomous independent commission. But the stakes go beyond the design of election districts. In 21 states, voters can initiate legislation; in 18 states, they can initiate constitutional amendments.

In recent years, for example, voters in Washington and California have used this power to adopt a new form of primary election, known as the “top two” primary, designed to give voters more choices. If the Constitution permits only state legislatures to enact such laws (or to refuse to enact them), these kinds of voter-initiated measures would be unconstitutional.

(More here.)

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