A proposal before the Nevada Assembly would change the way the state draws up districts for its legislative elections, both at the state and federal levels.
Currently, the Assembly takes on redistricting itself, deciding the boundaries for congressional districts throughout the state following each census. Assembly Bill 252 calls for the creation of a nonpartisan commission that would make recommendations for the Legislature to consider when undergoing the redistricting process.
According to Loyola Law School professor Justin Levitt, an expert in constitutional law and redistricting, Nevada would be one of a handful of states in the country to manage redistricting in this way, if the bill passes.
"It's not that common," he told KNPR's State of Nevada. "Most states have their legislatures redraw lines, both for the state legislature and for Congress. That's the majority of states across the country, and that's historically been the norm. But, I think increasingly, states are looking to avoid, or at least limit, the conflict of interest inherent in having the people who will run for office on these lines actually be the ones to draw them."
Under AB 252, the redistricting commission would consist of five appointed persons, with one each selected by the majority and minority members of the Assembly and the Senate. The fifth appointee would be chosen by the Chief Justice of the Nevada Supreme Court. Commission members would be prohibited from running for office for five years after they have served.
Although the majority of the appointees would be selected by those holding a partisan office, Levitt doesn't think that would compromise the nonpartisan nature of the commission.
"There's absolutely nothing stopping the people from picking partisan friends, but I think it's significant that this commission would have other constraints on letting full blown partisanship sort of drive the process," he said. "For one, it's an evenly balanced commission, and the people who are going to be attuned to attempts to rig the game in a partisan way, and number two, the commission is at least supposed to ensure that districts not be drawn with the intent to favor or disfavor a political party or an incumbent. That is baked right into the rules the commission is supposed to be using."
If the proposal is approved, though, the commission will not have the final say in redistricting matters. The commission would be asked to provide three possible maps for both state and congressional redistricting, but the Legislature still must approve any plans for redistricting, and could theoretically choose none of the proposals the commission puts forward.
Justin Levitt, professor of law, Loyola Law School