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Supreme Court upholds redistricting

The Arizona Supreme Court has ruled the state’s Independent Redistricting Commission acted properly in crafting legislative district boundaries that have been in use since 2002.

A challenge had been brought in March 2002 by a coalition of advocacy groups and politicians claiming the commission had not considered “competitiveness” – one of five constitutionally required directives – when it decided final district boundaries. Of the 30 legislative districts established by the commission, four were considered competitive in terms of voting history and voter registration. The coalition prepared maps that had up to seven competitive districts that it said did not violate the other constitutional standards.

Writing for the court, Chief Justice Ruth McGregor said competitiveness was not intended to be a exclusive standard, but only a desirable outcome when doing so would not “cause significant detriment” to the other constitutionally required goals of equal population, geographical compactness, respecting existing “communities of interest” and contiguity with visible geographic features.

The court’s reasoning was largely a product of its decision the commission was acting as a legislative body and not as an administrative agency. That decision meant that in order for the court to declare the district map unconstitutional, it would need to find the commission did not follow constitutionally required procedures. In other words, the court said it could not intrude into the essentially legislative authority the commission has in drawing district lines, as long as there was proof the commission considered competitiveness, even though a different map might have created more districts that were competitive.

As a legislative body, the commission has the discretion to balance competing requirements, and the decision by the five commissioners cannot be judged improper just because a different set of people might have devised a different map to give greater weight to competitiveness. The court said there was ample proof in minutes of commission meetings competiveness had been considered. The only other proper basis for the challenge, said the court, would be a demonstration that no reasonable redistricting commission could have adopted the plan at issue. The court decided the plaintiffs had failed to show that.

The court also rejected several other constitutional challenges brought by the coalition.

Justices Rebecca White Berch and Michael Ryan fully concurred in McGregor’s arguments. Justice Andrew Hurwitz agreed in part with the majority, but differed from it in a decision related to the constitutionality of the timing of when the commission considered the goal of competitiveness.

Hurwitz explains the commission first adjusted its initial maps for the four other considerations, advertised a draft for public input and then adjusted for competitiveness. However, Hurwitz said the Arizona Constitution requires all five considerations be used before a map is submitted to the public. To do otherwise, Hurwitz said, is to relegate competitiveness to a “secondary role.” Nevertheless, Hurwitz said he agreed with the court’s ultimate disposition of the case. To do otherwise with only one election cycle remaining before another round of redistricting, he said, would be impractical. Justice Garye Vasquez, from the Court of Appeals, Division 2, sitting for Justice Scott Bales who had recused himself in this matter, concurred with Hurwitz.

For more information about the Arizona Legislative Report, contact Arizona Capitol Reports at (602) 258-7026 or staff@azcapitolreports.com

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