Arizona's top legislative leaders are going to get a chance to try to derail plans by the Tohono O'odham to build a casino on the edge of Glendale.
But not the rest of the lawmakers.
U.S. District Judge David Campbell has accepted the arguments by attorneys for four Republican leaders that the outcome of the dispute could affect "key state and legislative interests.'' And the judge said he is not dissuaded by the fact that the Legislature itself never voted to have its leaders intervene in the high-profile fight between the Tohono O'odham and others opposing the new casino.
"Intervention must occur now if (legislative) intervenors are to take part in the resolution of this case,'' Campbell said. "And the Arizona Legislature is not in session to grant express authorization.''
But the judge said the four Republican lawmakers are the elected leaders which, by definition, makes them the people who would normally speak for the entire Legislature.
Campbell cautioned, though, he won't allow the new parties to the case to slow things up: The judge still wants all the legal briefs to be filed so he can hear the arguments from all sides on Feb. 17.
The judge's ruling is a defeat for both the Tohono O'odham Nation as well as the U.S. Department of Interior which is siding with the tribe in the dispute over whether it can annex 53 acres of land adjacent to Glendale into the reservation. That move is a legal precursor of the tribe's plan to build a $550 million hotel and shopping complex, including a casino, near the Arizona Cardinals stadium.
That move is opposed by the Gila River Indian Community whose attorneys say the permission from the federal agency was improperly granted. The City of Glendale also filed its own lawsuit challenging the annexation permission as illegal.
The GOP lawmakers, along with Gov. Jan Brewer, have objected to the idea of a casino on the edge of Glendale.
Legal issues aside, they contend it violates the spirit, if not the specific language of a 2002 voter-approved measure which gave tribes the sole right to conduct casino gaming in Arizona in exchange for a share of the profits. That measure, they contend, barred new casinos on anything other than what was reservation land at the time.
Attorneys for the Tohono O'odham, though, say that 2002 law contained an exception for lands acquired and annexed as replacements for other reservation property. In this case, they said a 1986 law compensating the tribe for the flooding of reservation land near Gila Bend specifically authorized the purchase and annexation of other property that does not need to be adjacent to the Tohono's main reservation in Southern Arizona.
The four now-permitted GOP intervenors are House Speaker Kirk Adams, Majority Leader John McComish, Majority Whip Andy Tobin and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Gray.
Outgoing Senate President Bob Burns of Peoria had previously shown little interest in trying to thwart the Tohono O'odham plans, even using his power to kill a House-passed bill that would have allowed Glendale to annex the land, thereby making it off-limits to reservation annexation.