Huffpost Politics

Arizona's GOP Wasn't Happy With How An Independent Commission Drew Districts, So They Sued

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Arizona State Senate Majority Leader Andy Biggs (R) speaks to Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission Chair Colleen Coyle Mathis. | ASSOCIATED PRESS

Lawyers for Arizona's Republican-led state legislature argued Friday that a federal court should invalidate the congressional districts created by an independent commission and let the legislature draw the districts instead, according to AZ Central.

In their arguments, the lawyers pressed the court to rule that only state lawmakers have the authority to draw the boundaries for Arizona’s nine congressional districts. Proposition 6, passed by voters in 2000, gave redistricting duty to Arizona's "Independent Redistricting Commission," a five-member bipartisan panel chaired by a registered independent voter.

At issue in the suit is whether the U.S. Constitution's Elections Clause gives state legislatures the sole authority to draw congressional lines.

As AZ Central reported, the federal judge hearing the suit asked the legislature's counsel where the clause explicitly gives state legislatures redistricting authority, since it deals with the issue of “the time, place and manner” of holding elections and not the drawing of district boundaries.

In documents submitted by the legislature, it argued that "Prop. 106 impermissibly removes the Legislature from its constitutionally-mandated role in the redistricting process."

Mary O’Grady, who represents the independent commission, told The Huffington Post that the legislature's suit was violating Arizona's Voter Protection Act. The law, which limits the legislature's ability to interfere with voter-approved measures, passed in 1998.

O'Grady challenged the legislature's legal standing to bring the suit, arguing that it couldn't prove that the lines drawn by the commission actually injured the legislature. She pointed out that the legislature didn't challenge the commission's district lines after the Department of Justice approved them in 2012.

Christopher Leone, a spokesman for the state House Republican Caucus, told The Huffington Post that fundamentally, the Republican leadership sees the case as an issue of constitutionality.

"It all boils down to how do you interpret a phrase of the constitution," Leone said.

Asked about the timing of the suit, he said, "There isn't any real significance to the timing."

The executive director of Arizona's Democratic Party, DJ Quinlan, accused the state GOP of challenging the redistricting commission's authority for politically-motivated reasons.

"The GOP doesn't like the fact that they weren't able to gerrymander the congressional map as they were in other states," Quinlan told The Huffington Post. "This is a case of politicians wanting to choose their voters. It's a power grab, plain and simple. They're literally saying that citizens didn't have the right to vote for an independent commission."

The independent commission has a history of fraught relations with the state's GOP leadership. In 2011, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) accused the commission's independent chair, Colleen Coyle Mathis, of "gross misconduct" in drawing district boundaries and dismissed Mathis from her position, only to have that decision overturned by Arizona's Supreme Court.

Arizona's congressional delegation to the House of Representatives consists of five Democrats and four Republicans. Lawmakers want to be able to propose a new congressional district map before the state's primary on Aug. 26.

The court hasn't yet issued a final ruling in the case.

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