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Updated Feb 21, 2014 - 7:24 pm

Challenge to Arizona congressional maps dismissed

PHOENIX -- A panel of federal judges on Friday dismissed a lawsuit filed by the Republican-controlled Arizona Legislature that sought to throw out maps of the state's U.S. congressional districts adopted in 2012.

The three-judge panel's majority ruling rejects lawmakers' arguments that the U.S. Constitution gives only the Legislature the authority to draw maps for the federal districts. U.S. District Judge Paul Rosenblatt dissented.

The state's voters created the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission in 2006 when they enacted Proposition 106. The commission was given the power previously held by the Legislature to draw federal congressional maps and state legislative district maps. The commission adopted maps in 2002 and again 10 years later.

Republican lawmakers didn't challenge that right until after the 2012 maps were released.

The majority on the panel ruled that Arizona voters' creation of the commission to draw districts was not unconstitutional and that the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld similar efforts by states to remove the drawing of district maps from partisan lawmakers.

"The Arizona Constitution allows multiple avenues for lawmaking, and one of those avenues is the ballot initiative, as employed here through Proposition 106," U.S. District Judge Murray Snow wrote. "Plaintiffs...cannot dispute that the initiative power is legislative."

Rosenblatt, however, strongly broke with Snow and Circuit Judge Mary Schroeder. He noted that the way the commission is chosen by the Legislature, from a list drawn up by the state's commission on appellate appointments, and that fact that the commission can reject the Legislature's suggested map changes, undermine the Legislature's constitutional power to oversee elections

"I believe that Proposition 106's evisceration of that ability is repugnant to the Elections Clause's grant of legislative authority," Rosenblatt wrote.

Commission attorney Joseph Kanefield said the court ruled correctly.

"It was a good ruling for the state of Arizona and the citizens, for that matter," Kanefield said.

Kanefield said the ruling means the commission will continue to be the body that draws congressional lines and that the 2014 election will use lines drawn by the commission. Kanefield said he expects the lawmakers who sued to appeal.

House Speaker Andy Tobin the result was not unexpected but was pleased to see the strong dissent from Rosenblatt. He said the Legislature expected all along that the case would head to the U.S. Supreme Court and he expects that effort to begin soon. That appeal bypasses lower courts.

"If they think it's frivolous we want to know that, too, and then the argument will be over," Tobin said.

A second federal lawsuit filed by 11 Republican voters, including the wife of Arizona Senate President Andy Biggs, challenges the maps the commission drew for state Legislative districts. Another three-judge panel held a full trial in that case 11 months ago but has not yet ruled. A third case challenging the commission's maps is being litigated in state court.

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