Republican critics of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission filed two lawsuits today that seek to force the redrawing of the commission’s approved legislative and congressional districts.
The lawsuits, filed by attorney Mike Liburdi of the Republican-led FAIR Trust effort, take aim at the maps at both the state and federal court levels, and seek to challenge Arizona’s new district maps.
Liburdi is teaming up with FAIR Trust attorney David Cantelme and Lisa Hauser, who served as counsel for the inaugural IRC and helped lead Gov. Jan Brewer’s effort to remove commission chairwoman Colleen Mathis.
The challenge in state court seeks to force the IRC to redraw its congressional lines, which Liburdi said were drawn unlawfully because the commission deviated from a clear cut constitutional process for amending a basic grid map into a more finished and refined product.
To back that claim, the commission’s Republican critics are pointing to Mathis’ private work on the congressional map in which she filled in a so-called “donut hole” that existed in Maricopa County in what became the 9th Congressional District upon commission approval. That move, he said, did not take into account any of the commission’s required constitutional criteria, such as observance of the Voting Rights Act or the respecting of communities of interest.
The state court filing also alleges that the commission violated state open meeting laws through its secretive consideration of potential mapping consultants. Liburdi said there are “too many” indications that Mathis and Democratic commissioners José Herrera and Linda McNulty secretly, and perhaps illegally, prearranged to hire Strategic Telemetry, a firm with a history of working for Democratic causes.
The hiring of the firm became the subject of an investigation by Attorney General Tom Horne, who engaged in a legal effort to force the testimony of Herrera, Mathis and McNulty. That effort, filed in Maricopa County Superior Court, failed, as Horne was removed from the case for conflict of interest by Judge Dean Fink.
Fink later terminated the investigation, which was handed off to Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, and found that the commission was only subject to its own constitutional open meeting law requirements, and not more stringent standards called for under state law. Fink’s determination was appealed by Montgomery, and the matter is pending before the Arizona Court of Appeals.
Liburdi noted that attorneys for the commission argued that private citizens, and not law enforcement, were capable of filing legal attempts alleging open meeting law violations.
“We’ve accepted their invitation,” he said.
The second lawsuit targeting the commission was filed in federal court, where Liburdi said he will attempt to have a federal panel of judges redraw Arizona’s legislative districts.
This attempt argues that the commission packed Republican districts with greater numbers of voters while leaving Democratic districts more sparsely populated. That occurred, he said, in order to reduce the number of Republican-dominated districts, while maximizing Democratic gains in the greater number of districts possible.
That effort, he said, failed to take into account that voter registration statistics indicate that Democrats are outnumbered by both Republican and independent voters.
“They’re essentially a third party,” Liburdi said.
Liburdi acknowledged that federal case law grants leeway when it comes to creating districts of equal population. But, he said, the IRC did nothing to legally justify its discrepancies and that the state constitution’s mandate for equal population “to the extent practicable” provides a higher standard than case law.
Calls to IRC attorneys Joe Kanefield and Mary O’Grady were not immediately returned.
IRC Executive Director Ray Bladine said he believes that the commission’s legislative and congressional maps, which have both been approved by the U.S. Department of Justice, will stand up to additional legal scrutiny.
Bladine said the commission followed the advice of its attorneys, who he credited as being highly competent, and that he believed the highly political nature of redistricting makes lawsuits attractive to opponents.
“I guess it’s disappointing, but it’s not unexpected,” he said.
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