Ariz. Minority Coalition for Fair Redistricting v. Ariz. Independent Redistricting Comm’n – 5/20/2009

May 26, 2009

Arizona Supreme Court Upholds Plan for Legislative Districts.

The Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission (“Commission”), whose sole task is to draw congressional and state legislative districts, was created by an initiative-based constitutional amendment.  The process by which members are appointed to the Commission and the procedure that the Commission must follow when drawing districts are described in detail in the constitutional provisions.  See Ariz. Const. art 4, pt. 2. 

There are four steps in the redistricting process.  First, the Commission must create “districts of equal population in a grid-like pattern across the state.”  Id. § 1(14).  Next, the Commission must make adjustments to those districts “as necessary to accommodate” six listed goals.  Id.  The third phase requires the Commission to advertise its draft map for thirty days to allow for public and legislative comment.  Id. §1(16).  Finally, the Commission establishes final district boundaries.  Id. 

The Court first concluded that it would review the Commission’s redistricting plans under the normally deferential standard accorded to legislative decisions.  The Court then addressed the Coalition’s challenges to the second and third phases of the Commission’s state legislative district plan.

In making adjustments to districts during the second phase of the process, the Commission must accommodate six goals.  Id. § 1(14).  The Coalition argued that the Commission had failed to accommodate one goal:  “To the extent practicable, competitive districts should be favored where to do so would create no significant detriment to the other goals.”  Id. § 1(14)(F).  The Court rejected the Coalition’s argument and concluded that there was sufficient evidence in the record that the Commission had considered competitiveness in its deliberative process.

The Coalition also argued that, although the Commission may have considered competitiveness, it failed to follow the constitutional procedure because it did so only after the thirty-day advertisement period.  The Court concluded that the Coalition’s reading of the Constitution to require adjustments before the advertisement period was “overly technical.”  Because the Commission had again advertised its plan after considering all six goals, the procedure complied with the constitutional provisions. 

Finding no procedural deficiencies in the Commission’s process, the Court considered whether the final redistricting plan complies with the Constitution’s substantive requirements.  In light of the Coalition’s failure to show that the Commission’s plan lacks a reasonable basis, the Court concluded that the plan complied with the Constitution. 

Chief Justice McGregor authored the opinion; Vice Chief Justice Berch and Justice Ryan concurred.

Justice Hurwitz concurred in part with the Court’s decision and concurred in the result.  He disagreed with the Court’s characterization as “overly technical” the requirement that the Commission considers all six goals before advertising its plan.  Instead, he said, the plain language of the constitutional provisions mandates such consideration before the Commission may move to the advertisement phase.

Justice Hurwitz’s opinion was joined by Judge Vásquez, who was sitting by designation in place of Justice Bales, who recused himself from this case.