Suit to use new districts this year tossed

PHOENIX – A federal judge on Wednesday dealt Hispanic Democrats a setback by dismissing their lawsuit seeking to force use of new legislative districts in this year's state elections.

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District Judge Roslyn Silver granted a request by the state Independent Redistricting Commission to dismiss the Arizona Minority Coalition for Fair Redistricting lawsuit.

The Democrats had asked the federal court to order use of the new districts even though the districts have not yet received federal voting-rights clearance.

Silver noted that related proceedings are under way in the state Court of Appeals, where the commission and Secretary of State Jan Brewer are trying to block a judge's order requiring use of the new districts in place of a map he previously overturned as unconstitutional.

A state Court of Appeals three-judge panel is scheduled to hear the request by the commission and Brewer today, and Silver said she was ruling Wednesday "to expedite the resolution" of the case.

Silver's order was a setback to the Hispanic Democrats, but state Rep.

Steve Gallardo said he and other members still believe the U.S.

Department of Justice will approve the new districts' use "any day now," allowing them to be used in this year's elections.

Judge Kenneth Fields of Maricopa County Superior Court last month ordered the state to use the new districts drawn up by the commission after he overturned the commission's old map, which he said did not have enough districts winnable by either major party.

Brewer has urged the courts to quickly settle the dispute and said that election officials don't have enough time to switch to the new maps.

The commission has scheduled a Friday meeting to discuss its options in reaction to legal developments.

Members of the Hispanic Democrats' coalition voiced concern Wednesday that the commission could withdraw the new map from Justice Department consideration if the Court of Appeals lifts Fields' order blocking use of the old map.

Fields overturned the old map on the basis of state constitutional grounds, but it still can be used under federal law.

"Arizona deserves a constitutional map and this map is an unconstitutional map and it should not be used for the 2004 election," Gallardo said.

The commission has appealed Fields' decision overturning the old map, arguing that he should have deferred to difficult choices the commission had to make when balancing often-conflicting redistricting goals.