The Arizona Supreme Court gave Gov. Jan Brewer the clarification she wanted on its ruling to reinstate Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission Chairwoman Colleen Mathis, but it won’t be much help to Brewer or the Senate if they want to remove her again.
In an order on Wednesday evening, Vice Chief Justice Andrew Hurwitz said the alleged offenses for which Brewer and the Senate ousted Mathis on Nov. 1 did not rise to the level of “gross misconduct in office” or “neglect of duty.” The court rejected Brewer’s accusation that Mathis violated open meeting law and disregarded constitutional criteria for drawing congressional and legislative districts.
The explanation is a bad omen for Brewer and Republican senators, who had hoped the opinion would provide a blueprint for removing Mathis again in a way that would withstand the inevitable lawsuit.
After the court ruled that a Nov. 1 letter to Mathis from acting Gov. Ken Bennett did not properly demonstrate gross misconduct or neglect of duty, many Republicans hoped that Brewer could simply re-write the letter to the court’s satisfaction and remove Mathis again. But the court’s explanation makes it clear that the letter itself wasn’t the problem, and that Mathis can’t be impeached for the allegations she faced.
“The Court’s conclusion that the letter does not demonstrate “substantial neglect of duty, gross misconduct in office, or inability to discharge the duties of office” is based on the letter’s substance, not its format,” the ruling said.
The open meeting law allegation does not actually constitute a violation of the statute, the court ruled, because Mathis was not accused of calling a quorum of the IRC. If there is no violation of the statute, Mathis’ conduct does not rise to the level of misconduct or neglect, the court said. Mathis was accused of separately calling the IRC’s two GOP commissioners outside of a public meeting to urge them to vote for a Democratic-linked mapping consulting firm that Republicans opposed.
And the court said Brewer’s complaint that Mathis ignored constitutional redistricting criteria – specifically, requirements that the IRC respect communities of interest and draw compact districts – was not valid because the commission hasn’t actually completed its work.
“The governor’s disagreement with commissioners over whether they have properly considered constitutional criteria for adjusting the grid map before they have completed final maps is not, as a matter of law, a constitutional basis for removal,” Hurwitz wrote.
House Speaker Andy Tobin said the Supreme Court “overstepped its bounds.”
“I fully support any and all efforts by the governor to immediately remove Chairwoman Mathis and call the Legislature into special session to refer a measure to the ballot allowing voters the opportunity to repeal this commission, which has shown total disregard for the Arizona Constitution. We must act immediately to ensure that this broken and biased process does not continue to unfold,” Tobin said in a press statement.