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The Verde Independent | Cottonwood, Arizona

home : latest news : state May 26, 2016

4/30/2014 1:46:00 PM
Legislature takes redistricting fight to U.S. Supreme Court
U.S. Supreme Court justices
U.S. Supreme Court justices

Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services

PHOENIX -- The Arizona Legislature asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday to give its members back the right to draw the lines for the state's nine congressional districts.

Attorneys for both the House and Senate contend a panel of three federal judges erred two months ago in declaring that the voters of Arizona had the right to take that power from lawmakers and instead give it to a five-member Independent Redistricting Commission. They want the high court to overrule that decision -- and effectively void a key provision of the 2000 law that created the commission.

It almost certainly is too late to affect this year's congressional races, with the primary only four months away. But if the plea is successful it would permit the Republicans who control the Legislature to scrap the current lines -- lines that resulted in a 5-4 Democrat-Republican split in the congressional delegation -- and redraw them more to their liking ahead of the 2016 election.

Attorneys for the commission likely will have several weeks to respond with their own legal arguments.

Prior to 2000 it was up to the Legislature to draw lines not only for their own districts but also for the congressional races.

That changed with approval of the 2000 initiative. Proponents argued that the five-member panel -- four chosen by leaders of each major party and those four selecting a fifth -- would remove some of the politics from the process.

Two years ago, attorneys for the Legislature filed suit challenging the ballot measure, citing a federal constitutional provision saying that the "times, places and manner of holding elections for senators and representatives shall be prescribed in each state by the Legislature thereof.' That, they argued, left the commission powerless to set congressional lines.

But U.S. District Court Judge Murray Show, writing in February for the majority of the three-judge panel, noted that Arizona voters used their state constitutional power to make their own laws and constitutional amendments to give that power to the commission.

Murray said he reads nothing in the U.S. Constitution that precludes the voters, as the ultimate lawmakers, from doing what they did. He said that makes the lines the commission drew for the state's nine congressional districts legal and enforceable.

Now attorneys for the Legislature are want the high court to overturn that ruling, saying the plain language of the U.S. Constitution gives the power to "the Legislature' and not more generically to the legislative process which can include the voters themselves.

" 'Legislature' means lawmaking body,' said Peter Gentala, legal counsel for the state House and one of the attorneys seeking Supreme Court review. "There's only one lawmaking body in Arizona that fashions the laws of the people.'

The 2000 ballot measure does not totally eliminate legislative involvement in the redistricting process. It does require the commission to "consider' any suggestions from lawmakers.

"But there is no consequence if it does not,' the legislative attorneys wrote. "And it may summarily reject them.'

And attorneys for the lawmakers said that "token participation' does not bring Arizona's redistricting process into compliance with the constitutional language that congressional lines are drawn "by the Legislature.'

That February ruling by the three-judge panel was not unanimous. Judge Paul Rosenblatt sided with lawmakers, writing that the 2000 ballot measure empowering the commission to draw those lines amounts to an "evisceration' of the sole legal right of the Legislature to make that decision.

There are arguably political reasons behind the lawsuit by the legislative GOP leadership.

During arguments earlier this year before the three-judge panel in Phoenix, commission attorney Mary O'Grady pointed out that the Legislature never challenged the 2000 ballot measure when it was first approved -- and when the congressional maps crafted by the commission a decade ago were more favorable to Republicans. It was only when they did not like the most recent result that Republicans who control that the Legislature raised the issue of their rights under the U.S. Constitution being ignored.

There is a separate lawsuit pending in Maricopa County Superior Court challenging the congressional lines 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.

Neither lawsuit would affect the other half of the 2000 ballot measure empowering the commission to draw lines for the state's 30 legislative districts. That is playing out in a separate federal court lawsuit where Republican interests are trying to void those lines amid charges that the commission created districts of unequal population to give Democrats a political edge.

Taylor Waste

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Reader Comments

Posted: Tuesday, May 6, 2014
Article comment by: Mary Heartman

@ PF
I don't know what state you're in. I'm in Arizona USA. Voters here have a habit of voting for whatever sounds good: Defense of Marriage, Medical Marijuana, Citizen Redistricting Commission. Don't ask them how a particular law would work in practice. THAT is what we pay our representatives for: figuring what size, distance, and material each voter thinks the moon is.

Besides, redistricting complaints are as much of a bandwagon as the rest. Even if it were possible for elected officials to appoint truly neutral commissioners, handing them ten conflicting imperatives throws objectivity out the window. Conservatives will weight them one way, Progressives another. Fight!

Still, if it would turn your attention to something more fixable, I'll stump for keeping our legislators out of the Supreme Court on this issue. There's no point wasting money on something the Supreme Court can't fix either. Whereas machine counts…

You remember reading about Tammany Hall in your high school American History book, don't you? I've been told by program designers that computer programs are even easier to rig. That should be fairly easy to prove one way or another, don't you think?

Posted: Friday, May 2, 2014
Article comment by: @ Mary H No bandwagon exists

for my 'movement.'

I didn't think that expecting elected representatives to execute the wishes of their constituents-- as clearly expressed by voters approving a legal ballot initiative-- required a movement.

I thought that that was the job of our elected officials.

Silly me.

The only rational explanation is that the 90 dwarves we elect to misrepresent us really have their own personal agendas that they will exclusively try to foist on us.

Ah sweet, submissive, resigned electorate! We are nothing if not willingly subservient serfs.


Posted: Thursday, May 1, 2014
Article comment by: Frank Henry

We are a 'republic' form

One of the basic provision of the US constitution
is that every state shall have a 'republic' type
of government...where voters elect lawmakers
(legislators, governor, supervisors, councils,...,
etc) who make/approve laws.

The outcome of this case should be interesting.

Posted: Thursday, May 1, 2014
Article comment by: Mary Heartman

@ PF
I'll jump on this bandwagon if you'll jump on Cassandra's crusade to eliminate mail-only elections, Frank Henry's campaign for hand-counts to check the machines, itsy bitsy's vigilance against Top Two primaries, or at least the legislature's fight against indiscriminant ballot collectors.

Gerrymandering, unverifiable elections, opaque tallies, slate rigging, and unaccountable get-out-the-vote gremlins are all part and parcel of incumbents' never-ending attempt to close down democratic processes the instant they get into office and challengers' equally never-ending attempt to get into office at any cost.

Posted: Thursday, May 1, 2014
Article comment by: God forbid

...that our embarrassing collection of right-wing nuts, so desperate to control Arizona with their ridiculous beliefs, might have to face electoral competition.

These 'leaders' are gutless, selfish, narrow minded and a few other adjectives and expletives I know from experience the VI will not print.

Fair elections in Arizona per the will and direction of the citizens?

No way!

Not if these sad clowns have a say.

Hold power at any cost.

Prostitutes to power.


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