AZ Supreme Court Reinstates Redistricting Chair

November 18, 2011

Colleen Mathis is back as the chairwoman of the Independent Redistricting Commission.  The state supreme court Thursday evening ordered her to be reinstated…less than four hours after hearing oral arguments in the case.  The move overturns the November first action by Governor Jan Brewer and the state senate…which had removed her from the commission.  KJZZ’s Mark Brodie reports.

The state constitution gives the governor, with concurrence of two-thirds of the state senate, the power to remove a commissioner for substantial neglect of duty, gross misconduct or the inability to discharge the duties of office.  But the constitution does not define those terms.  And, Attorney Lisa Houser, who represents Governor Brewer, told the justices it doesn’t have to.

LISA HAUSER: "There is still an element of discretion involved. It’s not black and white.  It’s not a list of particular offenses.  And if it were a list of particular offenses we would certainly have issues of is it enough that the person has been alleged to committed the offense or convicted."

TIM NELSON: "The terms that the constitution uses: substantial neglect of duty, gross misconduct—those are terms that have to have meaning."

Attorney Tim Nelson represents one of the Democratic members of the commission. 

TIM NELSON: "And if you’re going to exercise the extraordinary power afforded to you to remove someone from office on those grounds you have to be able to establish that those grounds really exist and that the governor has never done."

In the court’s order, Vice Chief Justice Andrew Hurwitz wrote that the governor’s removal letter did not demonstrate “substantial neglect of duty, gross misconduct in office, or inability to discharge the duties of office.”  It also ruled the issue was not a political one.  That’s important because the court does not take on political issues…because of the separation of powers.  Mathis’ attorney, Thomas Zlaket, had urged the justices to take that position during the afternoon’s oral arguments.

THOMAS ZLAKET: "Without an order of this court reinstating Colleen Mathis to her lawful, rightful position, the Independent Redistricting Commission becomes a joke, a laughable joke, subject to manipulation by the very people that the commission was designed to insulate from."

KEN CLARK: "It is a frightening thought to think that the governor could just make up a reason to tear apart a commission."

Former state Representative Ken Clark is the co-chair of the Arizona Competitive Districts Coalition…and worried about the precedent keeping Mathis off the commission would set.  But State Senate Majority Leader Andy Biggs of Gilbert says putting her back on the commission puts the court into a bigger political can of worms.

ANDY BIGGS: "Certainly the actions of this commissioner caused a lot of people, including the governor, to suspect that there was no independence, that the independence has been marginalized…and then if she were to be placed back on, you’d be running into the same difficulty of what do you do now?  Has the independence been irrevocably tainted, at least with this commissioner?"

Thursday’s order from the supreme court was brief…but promises an opinion later on that more fully details its reasoning.