April 20, 2016

The firm won a victory before the US Supreme Court on behalf of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission (AIRC) in a high-profile voting rights case.  The appellants argued that the AIRC created a legislative district map that  violated the “one-person, one-vote” principle.  The firm argued that what the challengers described as partisanship was actually a “good-faith” effort by the AIRC to comply with the Voting Rights Act and that the deviations in numbers of voters were minor and made for a legitimate purpose.   A district court upheld the map and, on April 20, 2016, the Court held that the lower court “did not err in upholding Arizona’s redistricting  plan.”

In Harris et. al. v. Arizona Independent Redistricting  Commission, the firm represented the five-member independent commission that Arizona voters established in 2000 to remove politics from redistricting.  The appellants are a group of Arizona voters who contended that,  in the redistricting that followed the 2010 census, the AIRC deliberately put too many voters in 16 Republican districts and put too few in 11 Democratic districts, violating the one-person, one-vote principle.  A three-judge federal district court upheld the AIRC’s map, concluding that the deviations were “primarily a result of good-faith efforts to comply with the Voting Rights Act . . . even though partisanship played some role,” according to the Court’s opinion.

The questions before the Court were (1) whether the desire to gain partisan advantage for one political party justifies intentionally creating modestly over- and under-populated state legislative districts and (2) whether the desire to obtain favorable preclearance review by the Justice Department can justify such population variations.  

“This is a case where you wonder:  where’s the beef?” Partner Paul M. Smith told the Court in last December’s oral argument, his 17th before the Court. “What exactly are we here for? There’s no problem with this map.  It’s not a racial gerrymander.  It’s within the 10 percent boundary.  They did everything in the open.” 

According to the Court’s opinion, the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause requires States to “make an honest and good-faith effort” to create legislative districts of nearly equal population as possible -- but “mathematical perfection” is not required.  Deviations may be justified, the opinion says, in cases of legitimate consideration such as compactness and contiguity.  The Court also held that the appellants failed to show that the deviations were made to secure political advantage for the Democratic Party.  The unanimous opinion written by Justice Stephen Breyer called the appellant’s additional arguments “unpersuasive,” adding that “while Arizona’s Democratic-leaning districts may be somewhat underpopulated and its Republican-leaning districts somewhat overpopulated, these variations may reflect only the tendency of Arizona’s 2010 minority populations to vote disproportionately for Democrats and thus can be explained by the Commission’s efforts to maintain at least 10 ability-to-elect districts.”

In addition to Mr. Smith, the firm team included Partner Jessica Ring Amunson, Associates Emily L. Chapuis, Zachary C. Schauf and Alex S. Trepp, Paralegal Cheryl Olson and Legal Secretary Carolyn Huggins.