Two of the 25 nominees to serve on the Independent Redistricting Commission are ineligible, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.
In a brief order, the justices noted that Mark Schnepf and Stephen Sossaman are members of irrigation district boards. The court concluded that makes them public officers who cannot legally be part of the commission.
But the justices rejected the challenge to the nomination of Paul Bender, a former dean of the Arizona State University College of Law. House Speaker Kirk Adams and Senate President Russell Pearce argued that his position as a part-time tribal judge disqualified him from serving.
The order most immediately means that the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments, which acts as the screening panel, must meet — and soon — to name replacement nominees. The deadline for action by those who get to pick from the list, including Adams and Pearce, is the end of the month.
Wednesday’s ruling is a victory for Adams and Pearce, who wanted more choices.
A 2000 voter-approved measure created the redistricting commission to draw the lines for the state’s 30 legislative and now nine congressional districts. Prior to that, the job had been left to state legislators.
The law allows the top members of both parties in the House and Senate each to pick one member, presumably from their own party. These four then choose a fifth person.
But those picks must be made from a list of nominees: 10 Democrats, 10 Republicans and five who are unaffiliated with any party. Schnepf and Sossaman were on the list of Republicans.
Peter Gentala, the attorney for House Republicans, told the court neither was legally qualified to serve. He argued that means Adams and Pearce essentially had only eight names from which to choose.
Wednesday’s order assures there will be 10 qualified Republicans.
The justices, however, were not swayed by Gentala’s argument that Bender, by virtue of working for several tribes as a judge, also was a public official. They also rejected the side argument that Bender, as an employee of the tribes, had a conflict of interest because several tribes have taken active roles in the past in arguing where legislative and congressional lines should be drawn.