Federal judges hearing a civil suit brought by Republican voters who claim the state’s new legislative maps were illegally drawn to benefit Democrats questioned lawyers Friday about whether some members of the commission that made the maps were free of political influence.
That’s the heart of the case brought against the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission by 11 Republican voters, including the wife of Arizona Senate President Andy Biggs.
They allege the two Democrats and one independent on the commission improperly shifted Republican voters from some districts to make them more likely to elect Democrats to the state Legislature on the premise of complying with the federal Voting Rights Act.
That left some Republican districts with more registered voters and the Hispanic-majority districts with fewer than average, effectively diluting the votes of the Republicans in violation of the one-man, one-vote principle in the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection clause. There was no overriding state interest in shifting the voters the way the panel did, according to their attorney, David Cantelme.
The three-judge panel heard five days of testimony in U.S. District Court in Phoenix, with closing arguments and questions from the judges on Friday. The court will rule later, after more court filings by lawyers for the plaintiffs and the commission.
Cantelme alleged the Democrats and independent Colleen Mathis froze out the two Republicans from any meaningful participation in drawing the new district lines required after the 2010 Census. They also allege Mathis her bias against Republicans when she applied for the appointed post, failing to note that she had contributed to several Democratic campaigns and that her husband served as campaign treasurer for a Democrat seeking a House seat in 2010.
The main issue, both sides agreed, was one of diluting the power of individual Republican voters by putting more of them in GOP-leaning districts that the number of voters in Democratic districts. The Commission argued it followed state rules for creating compact districts, keeping “communities of interest” together, and competitiveness in making their decision. But they also had to deal with the getting the U.S. Department of Justice to sign off on their maps, so they had to create districts where minorities had a chance to elect representatives of their choosing.
The resulting maps created 10 so-called voting rights districts, nine Hispanic-majority and one American Indian majority, up from eight created after the last census.
Cantelme argued that the shifting of voters was illegal and done under the guise of creating voting rights districts.
“That pattern of deviation … could not have happened except by design,’ Cantelme said. “It could not have happened by application of the neutral criteria.”
Commission lawyer Colin Campbell argued the commission did every map change in public and created a lengthy record that gave reasons for each change. He pointed to those not on the commission for seeing politics as the driving force.
“The partisanship comes from the partisans outside the process,” he told the judges.
They seemed skeptical of that argument in questions following the closing arguments.
Circuit Judge Richard Clifton said commissioners surely knew the political ramifications of what they were doing with the maps.
“If you’re interested in politics, you know what’s going on,” he said.
Clifton and District Judges Roslyn Silver and Neil Wake heard the case. It is one of three lawsuits brought against the commission after it adopted the statewide legislative and Congressional maps in January 2012. One of the others challenges the commission’s right to draw district maps and the other challenges the completed Congressional maps.
Gov. Jan Brewer and other Republicans immediately denounced the maps as being drawn to favor Democrats. Brewer removed Mathis as chairwoman in November 2011, but the state Supreme Court restored her to the post two weeks later, saying Brewer had no grounds to remove her.
Voters created the commission in 2000 to take the politically charged once-a-decade job of drawing new maps out of the hands of the Legislature.