AZ Supreme Court unanimous in decision to reinstate redistricting chair

Evan Wyloge//April 20, 2012

AZ Supreme Court unanimous in decision to reinstate redistricting chair

Evan Wyloge//April 20, 2012

Redistricting chairwoman Colleen Mathis (Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Capitol Times)

The Arizona Supreme Court acted unanimously last fall to reinstate Colleen Mathis to the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, finding that Gov. Jan Brewer’s stated reasons for removing her did not rise to the legal standards required.

In the long-awaited opinion released today, the court finds that Brewer’s removal was unwarranted for two main reasons.

First, Brewer’s removal was based on the assertion that Mathis “failed to conduct the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission’s business in meetings open to the public.”

Brewer’s removal letter, the 31-page opinion states, did not substantiate that claim.

“At no point, however, did the Governor allege or find that a non-public meeting of a quorum of the IRC occurred,” the opinion reads.

And because Brewer did not substantiate the public meeting allegations, the court was unable to determine that the clear legal standards of “substantial neglect of duty” or “gross misconduct,” were met.

Second, Brewer said that Mathis “failed to adjust the grid map as necessary to accommodate all of the goals set forth in the Arizona Constitution.”

But the court found that this charge was premature, since the maps were still in draft form when Brewer’s charge was made against Mathis.

“A legal inquiry to test the IRC’s compliance with (the constitutional requirements) is timely and appropriate after commissioners have adopted the final plan,” the opinion reads.

And even if those charges were to be tested, the court stated, it would be a judicial matter, not one resulting in removal based on executive and legislative powers.

Brewer said she disagreed with the opinion.

“It was unfortunate the way they ruled. I believed that I had the constitutional authority. But it’s over,” she said. “We’re going to move on. It’s sort of like old news.”

The governor, along with two-thirds of the Republican-controlled Senate removed Mathis on Nov. 1, following allegations that Mathis had tried to privately corral votes among the commissioners to hire a mapping firm with Democratic ties. The removal decision was made while the commission was in the middle of drafting maps that many Republicans also found unfavorable.

Mathis sued Brewer in the Arizona Supreme Court, and they overturned the removal on Nov. 23.

The commission finished the maps in the following weeks, and the Congressional map has received U.S. Department of Justice approval. The Justice Department is expected to make a decision about the Legislative plan by April 30.