The Arizona Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to temporarily reinstate the state redistricting commission’s chairwoman who was ousted a week earlier by Republican Gov. Jan Brewer in a move that has touched off a legal and political battle.
Justices still must consider the commission’s challenge to her removal. They previously agreed to put the overall case on a fast track and have scheduled a Nov. 17 hearing for arguments. That means the case could be decided within weeks.
Brewer invoked a constitutional provision Nov. 1 when she removed Colleen Mathis on grounds of gross misconduct and neglect of duty. She said the commission didn’t follow constitutional mapping criteria and processes and violated the state open meeting law.
The Republican-controlled state Senate provided the required two-thirds vote for the removal to take effect.
The commission filed suit, saying Brewer abused her authority and that her accusations are unfounded. Brewer removed Mathis because the governor and other Republicans don’t like the commission’s draft map of new congressional districts, the lawsuit says.
In requesting a stay, the commission cited the time-sensitive nature of its mapping work and said Mathis needs to be returned to office to avoid disrupting the panel’s time-sensitive mapping work.
Brewer’s lawyers opposed the stay request. Their arguments included that the commission lacks legal authority to sue over the removal and that reinstating Mathis would amount to “judicial second-guessing” of Brewer’s exercise of her constitutional authority.
Arizona voters in 2000 approved an initiative measure taking redistricting out of the hands of the Legislature and the governor. Supporters said the change would remove lawmakers’ self-interest as a motivation for how they map the borders of the state’s legislative and congressional districts.
Brewer and other Republicans have said the draft congressional map favors Democrats, and they have said that map and the draft legislative version give short shrift to constitutionally mandated mapping criteria such as protecting communities of interest.
Democrats said Republicans are just trying to block the creation of additional competitive districts to protect their incumbents.
Commission spokesman Stuart Robinson said the staff will work with the commission’s two vice-chairs to see how it should proceed while the overall case is pending.
In the meantime, the staff will continue processing comments received during a month of public hearings on the draft maps, he said.
Brewer said the denial of the commission’s stay request ensures that Mathis “will not be involved in the commission’s critical work” pending the outcome of the challenge. Brewer also said in a statement she is optimistic the court will uphold the removal.