PHOENIX - State Republican lawmakers have complained for weeks that they weren’t given an adequately balanced list of nominees for the Independent Redistricting Commission by a screening panel overseen by the Arizona Supreme Court.
And then, last week, after the panel that selected the nominees opted not to choose new nominees, they followed through on their threat to sue.
The lawsuit, in the form of a petition for special action to the Arizona Supreme Court, came after the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments rejected the calls from House Speaker Kirk Adams and incoming Senate President Russell Pearce for a new list of nominees.
The commission, whose prime role is to screen judicial candidates for appellate courts, voted 9-4 to give the Republican leadership the exact same list of nominees they had protested.
Several of commissioners, including Republican members, openly criticized what they considered undue legislative interference. They also rejected warnings from Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Rebecca Berch that they invited a lawsuit if they didn’t give in to GOP demands to draft a new list with more candidates from outside Maricopa County.
Now, true to Berch’s predictions and the threat leveled by Adams last month, the question on exactly who is and who isn’t preempted from IRC service because of the ill-defined preclusion of those who hold “public office” will likely be settled soon by the state’s highest court.
Adams and Pearce have already forced the withdrawal of two candidates – Mesa Republicans Mark Scnepf and Stephen Sossaman – for holding less-than-glamorous positions on local irrigation districts. Meanwhile, their efforts to force independent nominee Paul Bender, a well-recognized ASU law professor whose voluntary service as a tribal judge is contested, have been futile. Bender has refused to cave to the pressure.
A larger lesson, perhaps, is the danger of citizen initiatives. Arizona’s Independent Redistricting Commission began with the passage of Prop. 206 in 2000, and the measure’s language went as far as to clearly eliminate candidates who serve on school boards. But the privately crafted initiative, which made it to the ballot without legislative vetting, left a gaping legal hole that will now have to be filled quickly by the court system.
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