By Mary Jo Pitzl, The Arizona Republic
Arizonans paid for a win and a loss in last week's U.S. Supreme Court decision on congressional redistricting.
That's because taxpayers were on the hook for both sides of the historic legal fight — at a cost of more than $1.5 million, according to records obtained by The Arizona Republic.
The redistricting-related tab is still mounting, as the voter-approved Independent Redistricting Commission is in court defending its work in two other cases. Total costs on legal fees to date top $5 million, according to commission records, and will continue to climb until all the cases, including another trip to the Supreme Court, are resolved.
The Supreme Court's 5-4 decision last week in favor of the commission ends the legal battle in Arizona Legislature v. the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission. The case revolved around who had the authority to draw the boundaries of Arizona's congressional districts, a duty that voters gave to the commission but which the Legislature argued was solely its job.
The estimated $1.5 million tab is driven mostly by attorneys' fees, although the Legislature spent $32,500 for a consultant who had started drawing a new congressional map in case the Legislature won.
The work the consultant did in June will now be shared with the commission and the secretary of state's office. Although the data is of no use to the current commission, since the congressional maps remain unchanged, it could be helpful if another challenge succeeds or it could aid the commission that will be seated in 2021.
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Senate President Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, said the Legislature's overall costs, which amount to at least $420,000, was money well spent. The constitutional dispute that drove the case needed to be resolved by the high court, he said. And although the Legislature did not prevail in its argument that the U.S. Constitution's Elections Clause gives that duty to state lawmakers, the ruling settles the matter for good, Biggs said.
But taxpayers could have saved that money if the Legislature had heeded the will of the people, who decided 15 years ago that an independent commission should do the map drawing, said Dennis Burke, who helped draft the 2000 ballot initiative.
"Inasmuch as the Legislature was essentially suing the people of Arizona, it was ludicrous (to sue) in the first place," Burke said.
It's especially offensive, he said, at a time when the Legislature says it can't afford to fully fund education.
Burke noted lawmakers took an oath to uphold the Arizona Constitution and the lawsuit effectively violated that oath.
Bart Turner, who worked on the ballot measure with Burke, said the authors hoped the commission would lessen the legal wrangling because it was designed to include Republicans, Democrats and independents.
"To be honest with you, we were hoping it would reduce the amount of litigation," Turner said. "But this is politics, and there's a lot at stake."
Both Turner and Burke said the commission's expenses of more than a half-million dollars, are justified. "If somebody's threatening to burn down your house, there are costs to defend that," Burke said.
The commission's costs amount to $570,600, records show. As with the Legislature, the bulk went to attorneys' fees: $563,000. However, it's an unequal comparison with the Legislature's cost of $376,400, because the lawmakers' costs don't reflect the value of the work done by their in-house attorneys when the case started in 2012.
The GOP leadership in both the House and Senate said it's impossible to calculate the cost of their contributions, since they do not bill hourly as private attorneys do. The House attorney is paid $99,225 and his counterpart in the Senate $91,011 annually. However, their salaries cover far more duties than working on the redistricting case, legislative spokesmen said.
The Legislature hired former U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement, an appointee of President George W. Bush, to argue the case before the Supreme Court. His fee was $306,625.
The commission had its own former solicitor general to handle its case before the high court. But Seth Waxman, an appointee of President Bill Clinton, did not charge for his services other than about $20,000 in costs.
The rest of the costs involved travel and lodging, as Arizona politicians and their entourages traveled to Washington, D.C., for the March 2 hearing.
The six-member House delegation spent $11,187, records show. House Speaker David Gowan, R-Sierra Vista, attended, as well as House attorney Peter Gentala, who has been involved in the case since its inception.
Gowan also brought along his strategy and communications director, Brett Mecum; deputy chief of staff Lesli Sorensen (who also does legal work for the House); press secretary Stephanie Grisham; and former House Speaker Andy Tobin. Tobin was the House leader when the Legislature decided to sue.
Biggs attended the hearing at his own expense and did not bring any staff. However, Grisham said the House attorneys did most of the legwork on the case from Arizona, and she handled the state and national press meetings on behalf of the entire Legislature, not just the Senate.
The redistricting commission sent its own delegation at a total cost of $6,523, records show. That covered the costs of four of the five commissioners, two staffers and the commission's two attorneys.
In addition, state Elections Director Eric Spencer attended on behalf of the Arizona Secretary of State office, which was named in the lawsuit. His expenses were $1,117.
Gov. Doug Ducey sent two representatives, attorney Mike Liburdi and deputy chief of staff Danny Seiden, at a combined cost of $3,027.