The Arizona Supreme Court late Wednesday effectively blocked Gov. Jan Brewer from once again trying to fire the chairwoman of the Independent Redistricting Commission, at least not for the reasons the governor cited the first time around.
In a special order, the justices said Brewer provided no evidence that there were three or more members of the five-member commission meeting together at the same time. Justice Andrew Hurwitz, explaining the order, said that means there was no violation of either the state's Open Meeting Law or a separate constitutional provision requiring commission meetings be open, one of the two grounds that the governor cited in ousting Colleen Mathis.
Hurwitz also said Brewer was on no firmer ground in saying that Mathis violated constitutional requirements in the way she led the commission to craft maps for the state's nine congressional districts. Brewer charged that the panel paid too much attention to creating politically competitive districts while ignoring a requirement to keep "communities of interest'' together.
"The commissioners perform legislative tasks in which they must balance competing concerns and exercising discretion'' in adjusting the maps, Hurwitz wrote.
Anyway, he pointed out, the maps that the governor contends are illegal are just drafts. In fact, the commission has scheduled three meetings for this coming week to review public comment to those draft maps and consider making adjustments.
"The governor's disagreement with commissioners over whether they have properly considered constitutional criteria for adjusting the (initial) grid map before they have completed final maps is not, as a matter of law, a constitutional basis for removal,'' Hurwitz wrote.
The governor's office had no immediate comment.
Wednesday's order actually was a response by the high court to a request by the governor for the justices to clarify their decision a week ago that Brewer had acted illegally in firing Mathis.
At that time, the court simply said that Brewer's Nov. 1 letter to Mathis firing her "does not demonstrate substantial neglect of duty, gross misconduct in office or inability to discharge the duties of office.'' Those are the only grounds the Arizona Constitution gives a governor to remove a commission member.
Brewer's attorneys said, though, that ruling was less than clear. They specifically wanted to know whether that meant the court believes the governor's letter was less than clear in spelling out the offenses that the governor believes provided the basis to oust Mathis.
Hurwitz said that's not the case, saying the original ruling "is based on the letter's substance, not its format.''
"The letter does not, as a matter of law, identify conduct that provides a constitutional basis for removal,'' he wrote.