- Associated Press - Thursday, March 16, 2017

PHOENIX (AP) - A judge on Thursday dismissed the final challenge to Arizona’s congressional and legislative district maps drawn by an independent commission in 2012.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Roger Brodman dismissed the challenge to the congressional map brought by a group of voters following the adoption of the maps. The U.S. Supreme Court has previously upheld the legality of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission itself and the legislative district maps.

Brodman rejected arguments that commissioners used improper procedures and illegally made decisions behind closed doors. He noted that it was important for him to rule because the appeals will likely take years and there are only two more general elections before the next mapmaking effort by a new commission.

“Even if the appeal could be completed and the commission ordered to redo the process, the court cannot imagine that the process would be finished in time for the 2018 elections,” Brodman wrote. “Indeed, the court doubts that the process could be finished in time for the 2020 elections.”

The commission was embroiled in legal issues since it began making the maps after the 2010 census. After they were adopted in January 2012, former Gov. Jan Brewer and other Republicans immediately denounced the maps as being drawn to favor Democrats.

Brewer had removed Colleen Mathis as chairwoman of the five-member panel in November 2011, but the state Supreme Court restored her to the post two weeks later, saying Brewer had no grounds to remove her. The attorney general’s office also sued over open meeting violations, but the commission prevailed.

One of the voters who sued in the challenge decided Thursday has said his concern was over the way some of the congressional districts were drawn. Republican Vince Leach, now a member of the state House of Representatives, said last year that the commission didn’t properly consider “communities of interest” - areas with geographic or other ties - while drawing the maps.

He specifically cited the state’s sprawling 1st Congressional District, which includes Flagstaff and much of the eastern part of the state, and has gone Democratic since the maps were adopted in 2012.

“It’s very hard to look at the CD1 map and talk about communities of interest, because it’s simply not there,” Leach said. He couldn’t be immediately reached for comment Thursday.

That particular issue never actually came up in court, said Joe Kanefield, an attorney who helped represent the commission. Instead, the voters’ lawyers focused on whether the commission properly followed the legal requirements for drawing the maps for nine congressional districts.

Brodman said they had, and rejected other criticisms as political sour grapes, especially one that said the commission hadn’t given enough weight to recommendations from the Legislature’s Democratic and Republican members.

“In short, the fullness and completeness that the Commission should give to the legislative reports appears to be largely based on whether one is a Republican or a Democrat,” Brodman said. “This is a partisan political issue, not a judicial issue.”

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