Supreme Court denies Arizona lawmakers’ attempt to avoid depositions in voting lawsuit
The Supreme Court on Monday rejected an effort by Arizona’s two top state legislators to avoid sitting for depositions in an ongoing lawsuit challenging two state voting laws as racially discriminatory.
Arizona House Speaker Ben Toma (R) and Arizona Senate President Warren Petersen (R) had filed an emergency request urging the justices to pause a lower ruling that mandates the lawmakers hand over documents and be deposed in the case.
Toma and Petersen argued that doing so would violate legislative privilege.
Without any noted dissents, the justices rejected the lawmakers’ request in a brief order issued Monday.
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Last year, Arizona’s Republican-controlled Legislature passed voting bills that require individuals to submit documentary proof of citizenship in order to vote and change rules dictating when individuals are dropped from voter rolls.
Among others, the Justice Department, the Democratic National Committee and voting groups filed legal challenges, with some condemning the legislation as “voter suppression” bills.
Toma and Petersen voted for the bills but did not assume their current leadership positions until months later. Earlier this year, they intervened in the consolidated lawsuit to defend the laws.
The plaintiffs then responded by seeking to depose the duo about the Legislature’s intent in enacting the laws and requiring them to produce related documents.
Toma and Petersen unsuccessfully sought to block the effort in lower courts by arguing the requests would violate legislative privilege.
“Allowing discovery of these irrelevant topics implicates the separation of powers at the highest level of government, embodying a federal court’s significant intrusion into legislative affairs without legal justification,” the lawmaker’s attorney, Kevin O’Malley, wrote to the justices.
“The district court’s unprecedented ruling will chill both the atmosphere for all legislators to freely express their views during the legislative process and the ability and willingness of present and future legislative leaders to participate in litigation to defend the constitutionality of state laws,” O’Malley continued.
The Hill has reached out to O’Malley for comment.
The Justice Department did not file a response to the lawmakers’ emergency request at the Supreme Court. The other plaintiffs did, arguing that the duo waived their privilege by intervening in the suit.
“Until the legislators intervened, no party sought discovery from either of them,” wrote Seth Waxman, a former U.S. solicitor general in the Clinton administration, representing those plaintiffs.
“But once they voluntarily joined the litigation, and then made assertions about a key disputed question of fact—whether the Arizona legislature passed the challenged laws with discriminatory intent—plaintiffs sought to test the legislators’ position in discovery, as plaintiffs had done with other defendants,” he continued.
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