Court blocks Arizona impeachment crusade

Most objective observers seemed to believe Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer’s (R) impeachment crusade against the state’s redistricting chair was indefensible. Yesterday, the state’s highest court agreed.

The Arizona Supreme Court on Thursday evening handed Gov. Jan Brewer a stinging defeat, overturning her removal of the chairwoman of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission and reinstating Colleen Mathis as the panel’s leader.

The ruling came less than three hours after the court heard arguments on the case, which revolved around the extent to which the commission is free of outside political interference.
The court decided the governor did not demonstrate substantial grounds for removing Mathis from the head of the redistricting panel, and it ordered Mathis returned to her duties.

The law requires that the governor justify impeachment by pointing to “substantial neglect of duty, gross misconduct in office or inability to discharge the duties of office.” Brewer couldn’t offer a coherent explanation during interviews, and it appears her lawyers couldn’t offer a coherent explanation to the Arizona Supreme Court.

For those who haven’t been following this story, let’s quickly review the background. When it comes to post-Census redistricting, Arizona has an Independent Redistricting Commission, made up of two Democrats, two Republicans, and one registered Independent. The system was adopted by Arizona voters more than a decade ago, and was intended to take partisan agendas out of the redistricting process.

The tripartisan panel recently unveiled a draft proposal that would, as a practical matter, create four safe Republican seats, two safe Democratic seats, and create three competitive districts, all the while improving the voting influence of the state’s growing Latino population.

This did not sit well with Republicans, who were so outraged that Brewer and the GOP-dominated state Senate went after the commission’s chair. Yesterday, the state Supreme Court reversed the Republicans’ stunt.

Now what happens? The commission will apparently get back to work, though the governor may simply start over, this time with a new argument to justify impeachment.

In the meantime, as David Nir noted, the court’s ruling is “a massively humiliating turn of events” for Arizona’s Republican governor.

When the GOP effort began, John Avlon argued: “If Brewer gets away with this power grab, it will suddenly appear on the menu of every other governor looking to artificially preserve his or her party’s hold on power, Republican or Democrat. It is nothing less than an attempt to hijack representative democracy.”

Yesterday, that power grab came to abrupt end.