Lawmaker-corporate lobbyist deliberations and drafting of laws violate state’s Open Meeting Law, groups say
November 15, 2022, Phoenix, AZ – Today, a coalition of grassroots organizations and legal groups argued in court that 26 state lawmakers violated Arizona’s Open Meeting Law in 2019 when they attended closed-door meetings of the corporate-led American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Because the lawmakers composed quorums of committees, the private deliberations and drafting of laws amounted to unlawful decision-making by a public body, the lawsuit charges.
Today’s oral argument was for a case filed on behalf of the organizations Puente, Mijente, Arizona Palestine Solidarity Alliance, and Black Lives Matter Phoenix Metro by the People's Law Firm and the Center for Constitutional Rights. The groups are asking the court to make public all notes and materials from the meeting and to enjoin legislators from attending future meetings of this sort.
Said Percy Christian of Black Lives Matters Phoenix Metro, “ALEC has a long history of playing a crucial role in the development of laws that have directly contributed to the further exploitation and degradation of Black and other marginalized communities. That is why Black Lives Matters Phoenix Metro is here to stand in unity with other valley groups who are directly affected by the types of laws that come from these corporate right-wing white supremacist political organizations.”
The lawsuit is a rare challenge to ALEC, which has amassed enormous power in state houses across the country. Nationwide, a third of all state legislators are members, the group claims. It runs a pay-to-play operation in which corporations pay hefty fees for access to lawmakers, who then introduce legislation desired – and often drafted – by the corporations.
ALEC’s “model bills” regularly spur copycat bills in other states; between 2010 and 2018, more than 600 became law. These inflict disproportionate harm on marginalized communities, particularly communities of color, the plaintiffs say. Laws that began as ALEC’s “model bills” include Stand Your Ground laws, voter ID laws, laws targeting the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement supporting Palestinian human rights, and “critical infrastructure” laws that criminalize protests against oil and gas companies by Indigenous people and other activists.
The Arizona state house has been a notably hospitable place for ALEC. The group’s national chair is Arizona Senate president Karen Fann, and it recently named House Majority Leader Ben Toma its Legislator of the Year. It was a 2009 ALEC meeting at the Hyatt in Washington, D.C. that birthed Arizona’s infamous, oft-replicated SB 1070, which allowed law enforcement to racially profile Latinx people. Arizona state senator Russell Pearce proposed the bill there with support from fellow ALEC member, the Corrections Corporation of America, the country’s largest jailer of undocumented immigrants.
The lawsuit hinges on two questions: whether Arizona's Open Meeting Law applies to the Arizona Legislature, and, if it does, whether the Political Question Doctrine – which restricts the judiciary from intruding into the rightful responsibilities of the legislature – should prevent courts from applying it. In fact, plaintiffs say, the Open Meeting Law explicitly categorizes the legislature as a public body and therefore applies. Further, they argue that requiring the legislature to follow its own laws does not violate the Political Question Doctrine.
“For six decades, Arizonans have relied on the Open Meeting Law to provide the essential rights of government transparency and accountability,” said Angelo Guisado, the Center for Constitutional Rights Senior Attorney who argued in court today. “ALEC shamelessly erodes those rights by facilitating secret, closed-door lobbying sessions, generating historically abhorrent legislation. Arizonans deserve better.”
The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, the Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at ccrjustice.org.