10/22/2013 9:26:00 AM Redistricting Commission seeks dismissal of GOP lawsuit
PHOENIX -- Attorneys for the Independent Redistricting Commission are asking a federal court to dismiss what they contend is a power grab by state lawmakers.
Legal papers filed late Friday in federal court acknowledge there was a loss of power by the Legislature in 2000 when voters approved creating the commission and giving it the power to draw the lines for congressional and legislative districts. But Mary O'Grady said that does not make the system illegal.
"That was the intent,' she wrote. And O'Grady said the leaders of the Legislature, who are trying overturn at least part of the 2000 initiative, are "concerned more with the loss of power than the will of the people who elect its members.'
The filing comes as Ray Bladine, the commission's executive director, said lawmakers need to allocate at least another $1.25 million for the balance of this budget year which runs through June 30. And the big cost is defending three lawsuits against the commission, including this one filed by the Legislature itself.
Bladine said the request should be no surprise. He pointed out that the commission asked for an extra $2.23 million earlier this year but got just $1.12 million.
Hanging in the balance with this lawsuit is who divides Arizona into its nine congressional districts.
Lawmakers are asking the three-judge panel to immediately overturn the part of the voter-approved measure which lets the commission draw those lines. That would free the Republican-controlled Legislature to redraw the lines ahead of the 2014 race -- a move that likely would upset the current 5-4 edge that Democrats hold in the state's congressional delegation.
Central to the question is a federal constitutional requirement saying the times, places and manner of holding elections for federal senators and representatives "shall be prescribed in each state by the Legislature thereof.' That was the way the lines were drawn in Arizona through the 1990 redistricting.
The 2000 vote gave that power to the five-member commission. Proponents argued that would be less political than having lawmakers create districts designed to benefit themselves and their allies, to the disadvantage of political foes.
Republican legislative leaders filed suit last year to reclaim at least draw the congressional lines, citing that constitutional language. They contend that provision allows the elected Legislature -- and only the elected Legislature -- to do that work.
But O'Grady said in the latest court filings that the legislators are reading too much into that language. She reads it instead as an allocation of power between the states and the federal government.
"It's talking about the legislative power of the state,' O'Grady said. "It's up to the state to define how it's going to exercise its legislative power.'
In Arizona, O'Grady said, our state constitution gives that power both to the people and the Legislature.
"And the people established the commission to exercise legislative power over redistricting,' she said, rather than the traditionally elected "legislature,' something they are entitled to do.
Anyway, O'Grady said, it's not like the Legislature is powerless.
"It is free to make and pass a new plan and submit it to the voters for approval,' she said.
In fact, House Speaker Andy Tobin, who now is making a bid for Congress, told Capitol Media Services last year he had crafted his own maps for both the state's 30 legislative and nine congressional districts. Tobin, one of the movers behind this lawsuit, even had a plan for a special election to ask voters to approve those to replace the commission's maps.
But Tobin could not get the political support for the plan.
And a separate proposal by Senate Republicans to ask voters to dissolve the commission entirely also went nowhere.
If nothing else, O'Grady said the challenge by legislators comes too late, and not just because the current process has been in place since the 2000 election. She said the Legislature had a chance -- and did -- provide input into the maps crafted by the commission but chose to sue only after a majority of lawmakers did not like the final results.
"The time to enjoin the districting process was before the process was complete, not after the new districts were in place,' she wrote.
O'Grady told the judges they should not overturn the current maps even if they side with lawmakers and conclude the process was legally flawed. Instead, she said, the court could simply direct the next redistricting -- after the 2020 census -- be handled different.
That, however, would leave the current lines in place through the 2020 election, lines that Republicans do not like.
A separate lawsuit seeking to void the congressional lines playing out in Maricopa County Superior Court.
But that case is based on claims the commission did not follow procedures. And even if challengers win, that would simply send the maps back to the same commission to redraw.
A third lawsuit in federal court seeks to overturn the lines the panel drew for the state's 30 legislative districts. Plaintiffs in that case, all Republican interests, say the commission created districts of unequal population to give Democrats a political edge.