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.
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 it 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 the process, 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. And several lawsuits challenging the process already have been filed challenging both sets of maps.
None of those, however, cite the federal constitutional provision on who gets to draw congressional lines. House Speaker Andy Tobin said it’s time to do that in a case he eventually expects to reach 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,” he said.
Kanefield said commission members do not read the federal constitutional language the same way.
“The ‘legislature,’ for purposes of the federal constitution, means how it is defined in the state,” he said.
“Here in Arizona, we know that all political power is inherent in the people and governments derive their power from the consent of the governed,” Kanefield explained. “The people enjoy all the same power and authority that the Legislature enjoys here in Arizona, which means the people were perfectly within their rights under the federal constitution and, of course, state law to empower themselves to amend the Arizona Constitution to create this independent commission.”
Kanefield said there is a Supreme Court ruling dating back nearly 100 years which backs that contention.