Republican legislators challenge voting maps
PHOENIX — State lawmakers want federal judges to strip the Independent Redistricting Commission of its voter-approved power to draw the lines for congressional races.
In legal papers filed Thursday in federal court, attorneys for the Republican-controlled Legislature said the U.S. Constitution empowers only elected lawmakers to set congressional district boundaries. That, they said, makes the maps created by the five-member commission legally meaningless.
The lawmakers —at least the Republicans who backed the lawsuit — are willing to let this year's election go ahead using those commission-drawn maps, as it likely is too late to make changes. Candidates already have filed their nominating papers for the Aug. 28 primary and early voting starts in less than a month.
But they want an order blocking the map from being used in 2014 and beyond, instead letting the Legislature itself determine how to divide up the nine congressional districts.
But Joe Kanefield, an attorney for the commission, said the claim has no merit.
Central to the question is a federal constitutional requirement saying that the times, places and manner of holding elections for federal senators and representatives “shall be prescribed in each state by the Legislature thereof.'' That was the way redistricting was handled in Arizona through the 1990 redistricting.
In 2000, however, voters approved creation of the Independent Redistricting Commission to set the boundaries for both congressional and legislative districts. Proponents argued that would remove much of the politics from what had been done before, where lawmakers drew lines designed to benefit themselves and their allies and disadvantage political foes. Four members are selected by leaders of both parties, with those four choosing a fifth person to chair the panel.
There were some challenges to the 2001 legislative lines but none to the congressional districts. This decade's process, however, has been beset by complaints from Republicans that the commission purposely drew lines aimed at helping Democrats. Several lawsuits challenging the process already have been filed protesting both sets of maps. None of those, however, addresses the federal constitutional provision on who gets to draw congressional lines, which is at the heart of this new claim.
House Speaker Andy Tobin said that, given the complaints by those who believe the maps are unfair, it's time to have that issue resolved, something he expects to have to go all the way to the nation's high court. “We're asking the Supreme Court to finally chime in on whether or not the United States Constitution can be usurped for federal offices, even by a vote of the people to allocate that responsibility to non-elected, appointed members of the commission.”