PHOENIX — A three-judge panel of federal judges began hearing testimony
Monday in a civil suit brought by Republican voters who claim the state’s new
legislative maps were drawn up to illegally dilute their voting power and give
Democrats a better chance of winning seats in the Legislature.
Lawyers for the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission disagree, with the
lead attorney telling the judges in his opening statement that if it was the
intent of the majority on the panel to draw maps for Arizona’s 30 legislative
districts to get more Democrats elected, they failed miserably. He said both
sides agree that Republicans will control the House and Senate at least through
this decade because of how the maps were drawn.
“You will have to decide … that there was partisan intent,’ lead lawyer
Colin Campbell said. “If there was, it was partisan suicide.”
The suit filed by 11 Republican voters, including the wife of Arizona Senate
President Andy Biggs, alleges the two Democrats and one independent on the
commission froze out the two Republicans from any meaningful participation in
drawing the new district lines required after the 2010 Census. They allege the
independent and chairwoman, Coleen Mathis, hid 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.
They go on to say that Mathis quickly teamed up with the two Democrats, making
partisan choices for a mapping consultant with a background of working on
Democratic presidential, campaigns and refusing to allow Republicans to pick the
lawyer they wanted.
The resulting maps created 10 so-called voting rights districts, 9
Hispanic-majority and one American Indian majority, and did so by moving some
Republican voters out of the districts. That left some Republican districts with
more registered voters and the Hispanic-majority districts with fewer than
average, which effectively diluted their votes 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 attorney David Cantelme.
“We will make an argument, and I think it’s a persuasive argument, that this
pattern alone shows discriminatory intent,’ Cantelme told the judges Monday.
The Republicans want the maps thrown out and new ones drawn.
The trial started just hours after Cantelme filed a request for permission to
call a new witness, saying the plaintiffs had just learned that the executive
director of the state Democratic Party shared maps with the commission’s mapping
consultant that took incumbency into consideration. Commission lawyers called
the effort a baseless fishing expedition without merit. The judges did not
immediately rule on the request Monday.
The case is one of three lawsuits brought against the commission after it
adopted the statewide legislative and Congressional maps in January 2012.
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.
The three judge panel, made of District Judges Rosyln Silver and Neil Wake and
Circuit Judge Richard Clifton, is expected to hear testimony through Friday and
Witnesses will include commission members, mapping experts, the commission’s
Voting Rights Act expert and the executive director of the state Democratic
Party, Dennis Quinlan.
Two other cases have been filed, including one that challenges the commission’s
right to draw district maps and another challenging the completed Congressional