Lawyers aim to depose top GOP lawmakers in voting laws case

By Camryn Sanchez
Published: Friday, November 17, 2023 - 4:18pm
Updated: Friday, November 17, 2023 - 4:37pm

Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services, Arizona House Republican Caucus
Warren Petersen (left) and Ben Toma

Lawyers for voting rights groups aim to depose Arizona’s top Republican lawmakers about their motives for passing two laws that add requirements to the voter registration process. 

Those laws, adopted by Republicans on party lines in 2022, would require voters to provide more proof of citizenship, or be stricken from voter rolls. 

Voting rights groups sued the state, arguing the laws will disenfranchise legitimate voters. Senate President Warren Petersen (R-Gilbert) and House Speaker Ben Toma (R-Peoria) intervened when Democratic Attorney General Kris Mayes said she wouldn’t defend every aspect of the laws.

U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton issued a preliminary ruling in September against portions of the laws, and ordered Petersen and Toma to turn over communications about the bills. 

Petersen and Toma resisted that order, but on Thursday, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the lawmakers are not protected by “legislative privilege” because they’ve joined the ongoing court case as intervenors. 

Attorney Daniel Volchok told the Ninth Circuit that voting rights groups intend to depose the lawmakers.

Defense attorneys tried again on Friday to prevent the plaintiffs from deposing Petersen and Toma, but Bolton was unmoved by their argument. Bolton said the legislative privilege attorneys for Toma and Petersen claimed protected their clients from deposition was a “qualified privilege to prevent interference with their legislative duties,” not a blanket policy that makes communication between legislators a secret.

But that privilege was waived, Bolton said, “because Mr. Toma and Mr. Petersen chose to get into the case.”

A deposition will grant attorneys for voting rights groups the chance to question Petersen and Toma’s motives in a way they were unable to at trial while the two lawmakers were still claiming legislative privilege.

That deposition must happen before Dec. 12 — that’s when attorneys will are scheduled to present their findings to the judge. Court will convene for a final time on Dec. 19 for final arguments. Then Bolton will deliberate.

Bolton said she intends to issue a final ruling for the case before the March presidential preference election, because any parts of the two laws that go into effect could have an impact on how the upcoming 2024 election are run.

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