Puente v. Ariz. State Leg., – 12/30/2022

January 18, 2023

Arizona Supreme Court holds that the Arizona Legislature’s compliance with the open meeting law is a political question.

In late 2019, two dozen Arizona legislators allegedly planned to attend a three-day meeting hosted by an outside organization. Together, the legislators would constitute quorums of five different legislative committees. Non-profit organizations and individuals that sued the Arizona State Legislature, seeking a declaration that the legislators’ attendance at the meeting would violate Arizona’s open meeting law and an injunction preventing the legislators from attending.

The Legislature moved to dismiss. The superior court granted that motion, holding that whether the Legislature complied (or would comply) with the open meeting law is a non-justiciable political question. The non-profits appealed, and the court of appeals vacated the superior court’s judgment. The Legislature then petitioned the Arizona Supreme Court for review.

The Court concluded that the superior court got it right and vacated the court of appeals’ opinion. The Court reasoned that the Arizona Constitution specifically and exclusively gives each chamber of the Legislature the authority to craft its own internal rules. This necessarily means that each chamber can interpret, amend, enforce, or disregard these rules as they see fit. Courts can ensure only that the Legislature’s rules (or lack thereof) do not ignore constitutional constraints or violate fundamental rights. Because a violation of the open meeting law is not a constitutional violation (the law is statutory) and does not infringe any individual fundamental rights (the law only enforces the right of the public at large), there are no judicially discoverable standards to assess the Legislature’s compliance with the open meeting law.

This holds true even though the Legislature wrote the open meeting law to specifically apply to itself. The Legislature’s internal rulemaking authority is continuous, meaning that each successive legislature must make its own rules. A previous legislature cannot bind a future one, through statute or otherwise.

Vice Chief Justice Timmer authored the opinion for the Court, joined by Justices Lopez, Beene, Montgomery, and King. Chief Justice Brutinel and Justice Bolick recused themselves from the case.

Posted by: Joshua J. Messer