Last month's U.S. Supreme Court ruling voiding a key section of the Voting Rights Act requires the lines for the state's 30 legislative districts to be redrawn before the 2014 election, an attorney for Republican interest is contending.
In legal papers filed in federal court late Friday, attorney David Cantelme said the Independent Redistricting Commission's own data shows that it overpopulated some of the districts and underpopulated others. The result, Cantelme said, was to politically disadvantage Republican candidates to the benefit of Democrats.
Cantelme also pointed out to the three-judge panel hearing his legal challenge that the commission's key legal argument for why it made those decisions was that it needed comply with the federal Voting Rights Act. More to the point, commissioners wanted to ensure that the map it drew was "precleared'' by the U.S. Department of Justice as not diluting the voting strength of minorities.
But the high court last month overturned a provision of that law which created a formula to identify which states and counties have a history of discrimination and therefore must submit any changes in voting laws to be precleared. That list included nine states, including Arizona, and parts of several others.
The justices said the formula, parts of which date back to 1965, is no longer valid.
With the formula now void, no state or county is subject to preclearance. And Cantelme said the court ruling effectively means that the commission had no legal right to skew the maps to meet Department of Justice concerns.
Attorneys for the commission give their response to Cantelme's argument next month about how they fell the high court ruling should affect this litigation.
But attorney Joe Kanefield already has said the Supreme Court ruling is legally irrelevant. He said the commission, in drawing the maps in 2011, had to rely on the law as it stood at the time.
In fact, the Supreme Court ruling came a year after Cantelme first sued.
The outcome of this legal battle could determine the makeup of the Legislature for the balance of the decade.
If the trial court agrees with Cantelme, the judges could order the commission to recraft the maps. More to the point, they could be forced to do it in a way that does not consider the Voting Rights Act.
Voters created the commission in 2000 to draw lines for congressional and legislative districts, a task that previously was left to state lawmakers.
The constitutional amendment creating the panel requires them to draw lines that create districts of equal population. On paper, that should mean 30 legislative districts, each with about 213,000 people.
But the commissioners also are charged with taking other issues into consideration, including protecting communities of interest, creating politically competitive districts and complying with the Voting Rights Act.
The final maps had districts in size from 203,026 to 220,157. Commissioners said those adjustments ensured there would be no objections from the Department of Justice over affecting minority voting strength.
Cantelme, however, contends the real goal here was to create as many districts as possible where Democrats had a chance of winning by purposely moving Republican strongholds into adjacent -- and already Republican -- district.
He said that happened because commission Chair Colleen Mathis, while a registered independent, routinely sided with the two Democrats on the panel against the two Republicans.
Cantelme says the maps that were drawn and are not being used are illegal if the only reason for departing from the requirement for equally populated districts -- the Voting Rights Act -- is no longer valid.
Prior to the latest redistricting, Republicans controlled 21 of the 30 seats in the Senate and had 40 of the 60 House slots. After redistricting the GOP edge was reduced to 17-13 in the Senate and 36-24 in the House.
But there were other factors at play, including the fact 2012 was a presidential election year. And while Barack Obama did not carry Arizona, his presence on the ticket may have brought out more Democrat voters.
If the judges intend to order the legislative maps redrawn, they need to act quickly: Incumbents and challengers already have been forming campaign committees for the 2014 race.