When is national uniformity needed?

March 8, 2015
The sun will set an hour later beginning tonight. This is a photo of sunset in Pentwater earlier this week. Photo by John Mickevich.

The sun will set an hour later beginning tonight. This is a photo of sunset in Pentwater earlier this week. Photo by John Mickevich.

The Mitten Memo. A blog by Nick Krieger.

Did you get enough sleep last night?  Go ahead and grab another cup of coffee.  By now you know that Daylight Saving Time began early this morning at 2 a.m.  With any luck you remembered to set your clocks ahead by one hour before going to bed.  If you didn’t, you may be running late all day.

The United States briefly experimented with Daylight Saving Time as an emergency energy-conservation measure during World War I and World War II.  But between the end of World War II and 1966, no federal law provided for Daylight Saving Time in the United States.

In 1966, Congress created a uniform system of Daylight Saving Time throughout the country.  At the same time, however, Congress also permitted the individual states to opt out.  Michigan became one of the first states to do so when the Michigan Legislature passed Public Act 6 of 1967, exempting the Great Lakes State from Daylight Saving Time.

Certain citizens quickly became dissatisfied and wanted to restore Daylight Saving Time in Michigan.  They circulated petitions and collected enough signatures to subject Public Act 6 to a referendum in November 1968.  At the general election of November 1968, the voters narrowly rejected the referendum on Public Act 6 and Michigan therefore remained exempt from Daylight Saving Time.  Michigan did not observe Daylight Saving Time again until 1973.

Citizens again circulated petitions in 1972, this time proposing to repeal Public Act 6 and restore Daylight Saving Time through the initiative process.  At the general election of November 1972, the voters approved the initiated legislation and restored Daylight Saving Time in Michigan.  Our state observed Daylight Saving Time in 1973 and has done so every year since then.

Under Article I, Section 8 of the United States Constitution, Congress has the power to implement a nationwide system of Daylight Saving Time without permitting the states to opt out.  Yet Congress has not done this, choosing instead to give the individual states freedom to resolve the matter according to their own needs.  Every state is ultimately permitted to decide for itself whether to turn the clocks forward each spring.

Like this ultimate decision regarding Daylight Saving Time, Congress has left to each state the ultimate task of drawing congressional districts.  But Daylight Saving Time and congressional redistricting are two different animals.  Time is nonpartisan; congressional districts are not.  For example, a Republican-controlled state legislature will generally draw congressional districts to benefit Republican congressional candidates.  Similarly, a state legislature dominated by Democrats will typically draw congressional districts to protect Democratic congressional candidates.  This practice, known as partisan Gerrymandering, enables the state legislature to virtually guarantee the outcome of the state’s congressional elections.

As state legislatures have become increasingly discordant, and partisan Gerrymandering has become increasingly common, several states have created nonpartisan redistricting commissions to draw their congressional district lines.  For instance, congressional districts in Arizona are not drawn by the state legislature, but by an independent redistricting commission made up of an equal number of Republicans and Democrats.  This process tends to ensure that the state’s congressional districts are as fair and compact as possible, and not drawn for purely partisan reasons.

But this practice might come to a screeching stop.  Last week, the United States Supreme Court heard a challenge to the constitutionality of the Arizona independent redistricting commission.  The Arizona Legislature has argued that it—and not the independent redistricting commission—has the sole power to draw Arizona’s Congressional districts under Article I, Section 4 of the United States Constitution.  It is an argument that several of the justices appeared to endorse at last week’s oral argument.

Where does this leave us?  While Article I, Section 4 of the United States Constitution generally gives the power to draw Congressional districts to the state legislatures, it also specifies that Congress, itself, may enact uniform laws pertaining to the manner of choosing U.S. Representatives and Senators.  Under this provision, Congress could provide by law for the drawing of congressional districts in every state, effectively removing the issue from the individual state legislatures and establishing a uniform set of redistricting rules that would apply equally across the country.

By summer, we’ll know the fate of independent redistricting commissions like the one in Arizona.  If the Supreme Court invalidates these commissions, Congress should enact legislation requiring each state to implement uniform, nonpartisan congressional-redistricting procedures.

Sometimes national uniformity is needed.  Sometimes it’s not.  Each day, the sun rises and sets at a known, predictable time.  If one state adopts Daylight Saving Time and describes the hour of sunset as 9:30 p.m., but a neighboring state in the same time zone opts out of Daylight Saving Time and describes the hour of sunset as 8:30 p.m., it really doesn’t matter.

Our government is not placed in jeopardy by such a one-hour discrepancy.  On the other hand, our national government is threatened when one state draws its congressional districts in an independent and nonpartisan manner, but another state draws its congressional districts according to partisan affiliation and other invidious characteristics.  After all, the voters—and not the politicians in the state legislature—should be choosing the members of Congress in each state.  To effectuate this objective, Congressional redistricting must be performed according to uniform, nonpartisan methods.  Only Congress has the power to make it right.

Nick Krieger

Nick Krieger

Nick Krieger is a graduate of Ludington High School, earned a bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University, and holds a law degree and master’s degree from Wayne State University Law School.  Nick works as an attorney for the Michigan Court of Appeals and owns a home in Ludington. The viewpoints expressed in The Mitten Memo are Nick’s own, and do not reflect the views of the Michigan Court of Appeals or Media Group 31 LLC and its affiliates, Mason County Press, Manistee County Press, Oceana County Press.  Contact Nick via e-mail at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @nckrieger.

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