Biggs v. Cooper ex rel Brewer – 12/31/2014

January 5, 2015

Arizona Supreme Court holds that legislators have standing to challenge whether a bill was passed in a constitutional manner when the group has enough members to block a procedurally proper vote.

During debate on a bill to expand Arizona’s indigent healthcare program, legislators opposed to the bill maintained that the bill increased state revenues and therefore required a supermajority vote under article 9, section 22 of the Arizona Constitution.  Both chambers of the legislature concluded, by majority vote, that the supermajority vote requirement did not apply to the bill.  When the bill passed and was signed by the governor, 36 legislators, comprised of 27 representative and nine senators, sued to enjoin enforcement on the grounds that the bill passed in violation of the Arizona Constitution.

The trial court dismissed the suit for lack of standing, holding that the lawmakers did not suffer any “distinct and palpable” injury when the bill passed.  The court of appeals reversed, holding that if the bill had been passed improperly, the group of legislators had suffered nullification of their votes, which is an injury sufficient to grant standing to sue.  The legislators timely petitioned for review.

The Arizona Supreme Court affirmed the court of appeals, but vacated two paragraphs of that court’s opinion.  Both state and federal cases have held that vote nullification is a sufficient injury for standing when the legislators bringing suit represent a large enough bloc of votes to defeat the bill in question if the proper procedures had been followed.  The injury to any individual legislator was not sufficient to confer individual jurisdiction, but the injury to the bloc of legislators was sufficient to confer standing on the group of plaintiff legislators.  Because the plaintiffs represented a minority of the legislators, they were not required to seek approval of their respective bodies before bringing suit.

Justice Berch authored the unanimous opinion.