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Lawsuits challenge Arizona redistricting maps

PHOENIX (AP) - A pair of Republican-backed lawsuits reignited Arizona's contentious redistricting fight on Friday by saying a commission violated the state constitution in order to give Democrats an advantage.

One lawsuit asked a court to throw out a map detailing new congressional boundaries. The other challenged the legality of new legislative districts.

Each lawsuit calls for replacement maps for use in elections after this year.

But the challenge to legislative districts asked that a three-judge panel draw a temporary map for use in this year's elections.

Both lawsuits say Arizona's redistricting commission violated state constitutional requirements on processes and criteria for drawing maps.

The suit challenging the legislative map also said it unconstitutionally packs Republicans into certain districts to give Democrats an advantage in other districts.

Arizona voters created the redistricting commission in 2000, taking process out of the hands of the Legislature and the governor in a change that supporters said would remove political self-interest from decision-making.

The once-a-decade process carries high stakes because boundaries can determine whether a district is more likely to vote Democrat or Republican.

The lawsuits came one day after the U.S. Justice Department notified the Independent Redistricting Commission that the legislative map had cleared a routine federal review for compliance with the Voting Rights Act, a law that protects voting rights of minorities. The department previously said the congressional map had cleared a similar review.

The five-member redistricting commission approved both maps in January after a nearly yearlong process studded by controversy, including a failed attempt by Republican Gov. Jan Brewer to remove the commission's chair, independent Colleen Mathis.

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court to challenge the legislative districts said the plan "systemically overpopulated Republican-plurality districts and underpopulated Democrat-plurality districts, the obvious goal being to maximize the number of Democratic districts."

The lawsuit filed in Maricopa County Superior Court challenging the congressional map said Mathis and the two Democratic commissioners violated procedural rules and worked together to produce "outcome-driven redistricting."

Both suits said the impact of the commission's "illegal actions and unconstitutional maps will be felt for the next 10 years" until a new commission is formed to draw new maps again after the 2020 Census.

The challenge to the congressional plan does not attempt to block the use of the new map in this year's fast-approaching elections. A state court doesn't have the power to act that quickly in such a case, said attorney Lisa Hauser.

Hauser declined to say who was paying for the suit challenging the congressional map, but she said it was "Republican flavored" and those paying are "private individuals."

"As we know, it's mostly the Republicans who have been annoyed with the partisan nature of this process," she said.

Michael Liburdi, a lawyer for the legislative map challengers, said the request for an interim map was justified by the imbalances in the approved districts' populations.

Liburdi said the plaintiffs are conservative Republicans. He declined to discuss who was paying for the suit.

Commission Executive Director Ray Bladine did not immediately return a call for comment.

Commission attorney Mary O'Grady declined comment.

Brewer and other Republican politicians have criticized the commission's maps and the processes it used to draw them, saying the panel unfairly favored Democrats and over-emphasized the drawing of competitive districts winnable by either major party.

Commission members who supported the approved maps denied that, saying they strived to balance competing constitutional criteria that also included creating equal-population districts that complied with federal law, protected communities of interest and respected local government boundaries and geographic features.

Republicans and tea party activists also criticized the commission's selection of a mapping consulting firm which has worked for President Barack Obama and other Democratic candidates.

Under the approved congressional map, Republicans are given the edge in four U.S. House districts, Democrats in two and two others are considered competitive. Republicans now hold a 5-3 advantage in the state's delegation, which will increase to nine as a result of population growth recorded by the 2010 U.S. Census.

Republicans are expected to retain control of the Legislature, where they now hold 21-9 and 40-20 advantage in the Senate and House, respectively.

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