PHOENIX -- Republican leaders in the Arizona Legislature want taxpayers to pay for a legal fight against subpoenas seeking emails from nearly two dozen current and former lawmakers in a case stemming from a challenge to Arizona's anti-immigration law, SB1070.
The subpoenas targeting Legislative, personal and campaign correspondence from 21 House and Senate members are a fishing expedition by the American Civil Liberties Union designed to harass members who supported the 2010 law, Senate President Andy Biggs said Tuesday.
Biggs said the plan is to push legislation in the Senate and House authorizing $100,000 to pay private lawyers fighting the subpoenas. Former members otherwise would have to fight with their own funds for votes they took while in office.
"It is moral and is it the right thing to do," Biggs said. "People were simply doing their job out there. Now they're out in the private jobs and they find themselves in a witch-hunt subpoena."
He said some of the subpoenas were issued to lawmakers who weren't even in the Legislature when the law passed. The Senate Republican caucus discussed the issue and proposed legislation in a closed session Tuesday.
The proposed legislation was first reported by the Arizona Capitol Times.
The U.S. Supreme Court invalidated major parts of SB1070 in 2012. The subpoenas stem from the ALCU's continuing efforts to get the rest of SB1070 declared invalid on the basis that lawmakers were motivated by racial bias and fears of criminal behavior when they passed the law. That would violate the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.
U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton last month rejected an argument that the communications from supporters of the legislation to lawmakers' official accounts were confidential. Challengers also want to see similar correspondence between Arizona legislators and SB1070 supporters that led to the creation of earlier immigration measures in 2008 through 2010.
The new subpoenas target personal correspondence, which one of the current lawmakers targeted called an invasion of his privacy.
"I'm not being sued, they're using subpoena to try to dig into my personal life," Rep. Carl Seel, R-Phoenix, said. "It's way too far."
The subpoenas seek communications containing terms such as "immigrant," "illegals," "undocumented," "day laborer" and "Mexican." Seel said that if he had sent his wife a note saying, for instance, that they should take a vacation to Mexico, that would fall under the subpoena.
"It's an intrusion into my personal life," said Seel, who helped push SB1070 through the House.
One of those targeted is former Senate President Russell Pearce, who gained national notoriety for pushing SB1070. He was recalled from office in 2011.
ACLU of Arizona Executive Director Alessandra Soler said the civil rights group was only seeking emails that dealt with the legislation in an effort to show lawmakers had a racial bias while contemplating the proposed law. Many lawmakers now use their personal computers for public business, she noted, and the subpoenas only seek emails that deal with SB1070.
"Our position is if they're relevant to the issues in the legislation they should be turned over," Soler said. "Because we believe these emails show the real motivations behind the bill."