Arizona Supreme Court To Hear Ousted Redistricting Chair's Case

The Arizona Supreme Court will hear arguments Thursday afternoon over Gov. Jan Brewer's (R) decision to oust the chairwoman of the state's independent redistricting commission.

Brewer and the Republican-controlled state Senate removed Colleen Coyle Mathis from the redistricting chairmanship in late October, saying she violated the state constitution by holding too many commission meetings in secret and not following guidelines in drafting a congressional map. Brewer's decision came after Republican members of the state's congressional delegation lobbied the governor against the map, which includes four Republican-leaning seats, two Democratic-leaning seats and three toss-up seats.

A decision by the court is expected by the beginning of next week.

In filings with the Supreme Court, Brewer argues that her decision regarding Mathis should remain, saying that the court does not have jurisdiction over the case, describing it as an impeachment, which the court does not have jurisdiction over. Mathis and her allies have been saying the case is of Brewer removing a state official, which would allow the case to be handled by the Supreme Court.

Brewer argues that she is the sole authority on the redistricting commission, saying the constitution allows her to remove a commission with the consent of the Senate. Using the impeachment argument, she said the Supreme Court did not intervene in 1988 when former Gov. Evan Mecham (R) tried to get the court to stop his impeachment. The redistricting commission was created by state constitutional amendment in 2000, and does allow the governor and two-thirds of the Senate to remove a member, which has not been attempted until now.

Mathis has argued that she was not given fair due process by the governor in the removal process. Brewer had informed Mathis of her possible removal a week before, giving Mathis time to challenge the claim. Brewer then advised Mathis of the final decision just prior to calling the Senate into special session on Nov. 2. The Senate voted Nov. 2 to remove Mathis, with the decision being confirmed in a letter signed by Acting Gov. Ken Bennett (R) later that day. Bennett, Arizona's secretary of state, was acting governor while Brewer was in New York to appear on the "Today Show" to promote her new book, "Scorpions for Breakfast."

Brewer in her argument to the court said that she believes she provided enough time for Mathis to respond, saying the constitution did not lay out a timeline for removal procedures. She noted the process should be quick, given the short length of time the commission has to ready the maps. When Brewer made the decision, the commission was in the process of soliciting public feedback on the draft maps during a 30-day response period, which expired last week. The draft maps are currently on hold pending the final decision on Mathis' fate.

Brewer in her filing also reiterated previous claims that Mathis hired the commission's consultant in secret, along with not placing her husband's involvement with a Democratic lawmaker's 2010 campaign on her application. She also charges that Mathis drafted a congressional district map in secret without involvement of the full commission.

Brewer is joined in the case by outgoing Senate President Russell Pearce (R-Maricopa County) and the Senate. Pearce was recalled from office last week, but remains a senator until the election is formally certified by Bennett later this month. Brewer and Pearce received amicus briefs from state House Speaker Andy Tobin and the Republican mayors of Prescott, Williams and Yuma.

Mathis has received support in the form of amicus briefs from the two Democratic members of the commission, along with the Navajo Nation, the drafters of the amendment that created the commission, Common Cause and the League of Women Voters. Mathis is temporarily out of office, following a Supreme Court decision last week to remove her pending the final decision of the court. The court is expected to issue a ruling by early next week in the case, which has delayed consideration of a final congressional map for the state.

Brewer filed papers with the court asking the justices to ignore the amicus briefs filed on behalf of Mathis.

The court hearing comes as 19 people have applied to fill Mathis' seat on the commission. Under Arizona law, the state's appeals court nomination panel will choose finalists for the remaining four commissioners, then pick the new chairman -- in the event that the court affirms Mathis' removal. Under the state constitution, the commission's chair has to be an independent and there are bans on certain political involvement. The other commissioners include two Republicans and two Democrats.

Among the 19 applicants are a eighth-grade teacher, a newspaper editor and a lighting technical salesperson.