PHOENIX -- Republican interests head to federal court Monday with what they hope is their best chance of realigning the state's legislative districts more to their liking.
The challengers are pinning their hopes on the fact that the 30 districts crafted by the Independent Redistricting Commission are not all equal in population.
That, in and of itself, may not be illegal. That's one of the points to be argued out in front of a three-judge panel.
But attorney David Cantelme contends that the differences were done "deliberately, intentionally and in violation of the one-person/one vote principle.'
The goal of the commission, he charges, was to push as many Republicans into districts as possible. That would leave the other, underpopulated districts with more Democrats than otherwise would occur and give the Democrats an unfair -- and illegal -- advantage in electing their own candidates to the Legislature.
Attorneys for the commission do not dispute the population disparities.
But Joseph Kanefield and Colin Campbell say any difference of less than 10 percent among the districts is "presumptively constitutional' unless challengers can prove that there is an illegal or irrational basis for the differences.
And in this case, they said, the commission made changes to ensure compliance with the Voting Rights Act which required creation of a certain number of districts where minorities have a chance to elect someone of their choosing.
Hanging in the balance could be how the Legislature looks through the end of the decade.
Prior to 2012 Republicans had 21 of the 30 seats, with the GOP holding a 40-20 edge in the House. Last year's race narrowed those leads to 17-13 and 36-24, respectively, though proving the 2011 redistricting made a difference probably is impossible.
If the judges agree with challengers they likely would order the commission to redraw the lines in time for the 2014 race, but this time with directions as to what they can and cannot do. And those changes could mean more opportunities for Republicans.
Central to the lawsuit is the contention that the aim of the commission -- or at least three of its members -- was to help Democrats.
On paper, the panel consists of two commissioners chosen by top elected Democrats and two chosen by Republicans, with those four choosing what is supposed to be a neutral third party. That person ended up being Tucsonan Colleen Mathis who is registered as a political independent.
Only thing is, Mathis never mentioned on her application that her husband, Christopher, worked on the campaign of a Democratic candidate for the Legislature in 2010, she donated money to the Democratic candidate for treasurer and her husband gave to Democratic causes.
"This consistent pattern of service to Democratic causes and patronage to Democratic candidates reveals that Chairperson Mathis is an Independent in name only,' Cantelme wrote.
The result, he charges, were a series of decisions on legal counsel, the mapping consultant and, ultimately, the final maps which where Mathis sided with the two Democrats.
Commission lawyers, however, point out that Arizona, by virtue of historic discrimination, remains under a provision of the Voting Rights Act which requires the state to get federal "preclearance' on any changes in election laws. That includes new district maps.
And, in general, that federal law precludes states from taking any action which would dilute minority voting strength.
One legal point that remains in dispute is who has to show what.
Cantelme contends that it is up to the commission to show that every deviation from the ideal-size district was required to comply with the Voting Rights Act. But Kanefield and Campbell say the commission's action is presumed valid, meaning the burden is on Cantelme to prove to the judges that the changes were made "for illegitimate, arbitrary and discriminatory purposes.'
Anyway, they said the commission made population adjustments "to further other legitimate policies,' including respecting communities of interest, using county boundaries when possible and creating as many politically competitive districts as possible.
Those goals go to the 2000 voter-approved law that created the commission in the first place.
Prior to that for both congressional and legislative districts were crafted by lawmakers themselves. That allowed members the dominant party to draw lines favorable to themselves and their political allies.
The initiative was pushed by those who said an independent commission would remove politics from the equation. It also set out specific things the panel had to consider, including not just equal population and compliance with the Voting Rights Act but also those other goals like compactness and competitiveness.
The arguments over what Mathis was doing spilled over into the political arena as Gov. Jan Brewer attempted to fire Mathis in 2011.
Brewer charged that Mathis was guilty of gross misconduct by conducting commission business out of the public's view, based on charges she lined up votes on the commission by phone, ahead of time, to award a contract to a specific firm. The Republican voter also said Mathis violated the 2000 law by ignoring requirements to create compact districts and protect communities of interest, focusing instead on creating as many politically competitive districts as possible.
While that firing was upheld by a two-third vote of the Senate -- that's when Republicans had 21 of the 30 seats -- the move was overturned by the Arizona Supreme Court.
Justice John Pelander, writing for the court, said nothing that Brewer alleged, and that Mathis did, fits within the definition of substantial neglect of duty or gross misconduct, the legal grounds necessary to oust Mathis.
This is actually the first of three separate lawsuits against the commission's 2011 maps to go to trial.
Another case, also in federal court, was brought by the Republican-controlled Legislature.
It contends that the U.S. Constitution requires that congressional boundaries be drawn only by each state's Legislature. And that would make the commission's own maps invalid.
A third lawsuit in Maricopa County Superior Court also challenges the map for the state's nine congressional districts. But that is based on charges that the commissioner did not follow proper legal procedures in putting those maps together.
Posted: Tuesday, March 26, 2013
Article comment by:
Each citizen is aligned to the protections of the constitution which recognizes individual rights trump majority/class/location rules.
Under the constitution we are all equals and our voter/voting districts should be drawn on an equal citizen count only. All other considerations shall not trump equal citizen count criteria.
Posted: Saturday, March 23, 2013
Article comment by:
Not sure about other districts. But the verde valley has had a republican strong hold forever here. The verde valley should not be apart of prescott or that side of the mountain. We are aligned with Flagstaff. We have the same mindset as Flagstaff. We are not represented by the local republicans. Dont like their attitude or behavior. We must split the county because there is a problem when not one democrat or independent will not challenge a judge, sheriff, rep, or what or whoever. IT is a problem.