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Puente v. Ariz. State Legislature - 2/15/2022

Arizona Court of Appeals Division One holds that whether a legislative committee quorum violates the Open Meeting Law by meeting outside public view is not a nonjusticiable political question, and the “political caucus” exception to the Open Meeting Law does not apply when legislators from one political party gather with lawmakers from other states and corporate lobbyists to draft legislation.


Anticipating that quorums of certain legislative committees of the Arizona Legislature would attend a private summit with lawmakers from other states and corporate lobbyists to draft model bills, Appellants filed a complaint in superior court asking for findings that (1) such summit participation violates Arizona’s Open Meeting Law; (2) the summit’s model bills submitted to the Legislature are subject to the Open Meeting Law; (3) materials documenting the summit are public records; and (4) no quorum of an Arizona legislative committee may attend summits that fail to comply with the Open Meeting Law.  The Legislature filed a motion to dismiss, which the superior court granted, reasoning the complaint presented a nonjusticiable political question.

The Court of Appeals vacated and remanded for further proceedings.  The Court held that whether a quorum of a legislative committee may meet outside public view, in light of Arizona’s Open Meeting Law, is not a political question barring judicial adjudication.  In assessing the applicability of the political question doctrine, the Court applied a two-prong test to ascertain whether (1) there is a textually demonstrable constitutional commitment of the issue to a coordinate political department or (2) a lack of judicially discoverable and manageable standards for resolving it.  Applying the first prong, the Court noted that the Arizona Constitution gives the Legislature the power to promulgate and apply its own procedural rules without limits on its authority to self-govern.  However, turning to the second prong, the Court found that Appellants’ complaint seeks enforcement of the Open Meeting Law, which the Legislature imposed upon itself, thereby consenting to judicial enforcement of its requirements.

Judicial adjudication being appropriate, the Court concluded the former legislature’s enactment of the Open Meeting Law bound the Legislature because, although one legislature may not irrevocably bind its successor, the current Legislature had not repealed the law.  The Court also held that the “political caucus” exception to the Open Meeting Law, construed in favor of open and public meetings, applies when activity amongst members of the same party is limited to considering party policy, but does not apply when legislators from one political party gather with lawmakers from other states and corporate lobbyists to draft legislation.

Judge Thumma wrote separately, dissenting from the majority only to argue that the “political caucus” exception to the Open Meeting law should apply because all the legislators attending the summit were members of the same political party and sought to determine policy with regard to proposed legislative action.

Judge Campbell authored the opinion to which Judge Portley joined; Judge Thumma concurred in part and dissented in part.

Posted by:  BriAnne Illich Meeds

Posted On: 3/11/2022