Seven years after it was appointed to redraw the state’s congressional and legislative districts, the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission is preparing to shut down operations following the settlement of the final lawsuit against it.
The commission voted unanimously at its April 28 meeting to accept a settlement with a group of Republican activists who sued the IRC in 2012. The plaintiffs agreed not to appeal a Maricopa County Superior Court judge’s ruling against them, and in exchange, the commission will abandon its attempt to recoup $18,000 in legal costs.
Once Judge Roger Brodman approves the deal, the commission will have 30 days to shut down its central Phoenix office, according to IRC Executive Director Ray Bladine.
A $1.1 million appropriation that the commission was scheduled to receive for Fiscal Year 2018 will revert back to the state’s general fund. The current commission, formed in 2011, will effectively cease to exist. A new one will be appointed in 2021, when the decennial process of redrawing Arizona’s legislative and congressional districts begins anew.
Under the Arizona Constitution, the commissioners’ duties won’t technically expire until the appointment of the next IRC. But the commission may not meet or incur expenses past the completion of its legislative and congressional maps, except to deal with pending litigation or government approval of a redistricting plan, or to revise the districts if ordered by a court.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit, Leach v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, alleged that the IRC violated the redistricting criteria established in the Arizona Constitution by deviating from the “grid map” that must be used as a starting point. They also argued that the commission improperly ignored the Legislature’s recommendations on redistricting, and violated open meeting law in its selection of a consulting firm, and in the adoption of the “donut hole” or “bagel” map that filled in Maricopa County’s five congressional districts.
The resolution of the final lawsuit marks the end of a tumultuous redistricting process that included years of litigation, partisan infighting, allegations of misconduct, three lawsuits against the IRC’s maps and the impeachment of its chairman, which was later reversed by the Arizona Supreme Court.
Brodman’s ruling was the third in a string of legal victories for the IRC in lawsuits over the 2011-12 redistricting process.
In the first of those lawsuits, the Legislature challenged the commission’s authority to draw congressional districts, a right that it claimed was reserved strictly for state lawmakers by the U.S. Constitution’s Elections Clause.
In the second lawsuit, a group of conservative activists unsuccessfully challenged the commission’s legislative maps, alleging that population disparities between districts unconstitutionally diluted Republican voting power, and the maps intended to benefit Democrats. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the IRC in both cases.
The current incarnation of the IRC will conclude its work two years earlier than its predecessor. The final lawsuit against the previous IRC, which was empaneled in 2001, did not conclude until 2009.s