PHOENIX — A coalition of rights groups is trying to overturn a trial judge’s ruling that essentially says the Arizona Legislature is subject to the state’s Open Meeting Law that it adopted only when it chooses to do so — and people can’t sue over violations.
Attorneys with the Peoples Law Firm want the Arizona Court of Appeals to rule that Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Joseph Mikitish erred when he concluded it really doesn’t matter if a quorum of any legislative committee attends meetings of the American Legislative Exchange Council. That organization, funded largely by corporate interests, serves as a clearinghouse of sorts for proposed changes in state laws across the nation, changes that can wind up being formally adopted by legislators here.
But Mikitish, in a seven-page ruling, said it appears to be legally irrelevant even if there is a quorum of any given committee, even if there are enough people who then could actually formally approve a change in state law once they got back to the Capitol. He said that’s not for courts to decide.
The issue, according to the plaintiffs, is more than academic.
Sandra Castro, an activist with the Puente Human Rights Movement, one of the groups involved in the lawsuit, said that SB 1070, the historic 2010 Arizona law aimed at illegal immigration, came directly from a draft crafted at an ALEC meeting.
Parts of that law have since been struck down by federal courts. But there are provisions still intact, including a requirement for police, when reasonable, to check the immigration status of those they have stopped for any other reason.
An ALEC spokesman told Capitol Media Services that isn’t correct, saying SB 1070 was already adopted in Arizona before it became part of the ALEC agenda as a model for other states. Anyway, he said, ALEC no longer is involved in immigration issues.
Jamil Naser of the Arizona Palestine Solidarity Alliance complained about ALEC’s role in crafting what became a 2016 state law that sought to deny public contracts to firms that refused to avow they would not boycott Israel or companies that do business there. That law was later struck down by a federal judge though legislators subsequently adopted a slightly different version that has yet to be challenged.
Other complaints centered around what they said is ALEC-inspired legislation to increase criminal penalties and build more private prisons.
In filing suit against the Arizona Legislature, the plaintiffs asked Mikitish to declare that the meetings with a quorum violate the Open Meeting Law. They wanted him to enjoin similar attendance by lawmakers at ALEC meetings that don’t comply with that law.
The judge in his ruling said he can’t do that.
It starts, Mikitish said, with a provision of the Arizona Constitution that says each chamber gets to “determine its own rules of procedure.’’
Beyond that, the judge said courts have to avoid what he said are political questions in which there is no “judicially discoverable and manageable standards’’ for resolving the issue.
“In this case, the constitutional delegation is broad: Each house is to determine its own rules of procedure,’’ Mikitish wrote.
“Given the Legislature’s plenary authority in this arena, there appears to be no judicially manageable standard for determining what should be included in those legislative rules of procedure, including whether there should be a requirement for public meetings in the settings challenged by the plaintiffs,’’ the judge continued.
In fact, Mikitish said, the constitutional power of the legislature to create its own rules contemplate that “a smaller number’’ than a quorum of the full House and Senate can meet “in such manner and under such penalties as each house may prescribe.’’
The appellate court has not set a date to consider the issue.