Attorney asks court to ignore racially charged Arizona GOP election law statements

Attorneys for Republican legislative leaders want a federal judge to suppress – or at the very least dismiss – the evidence of a former Democratic legislator about racially motivated remarks allegedly made by current Majority Leader Sonny Borrelli.

Kory Langhofer did not contend in court that the Lake Havasu City Republican made the remarks to then-Sen. Martin Quezada. According to Quezada, the remarks were “one offensive thing after another.”

More specifically, Quezada stated that Borrelli claimed dead individuals and “illegals” were being registered to vote.

“If your people weren’t doing that, we wouldn’t have to bring these bills, he described Borrelli as saying.

Instead, Langhofer’s allegation is that the entities opposing the two 2022 bills, including the US Department of Justice, failed to notify that Quezada would be testifying about his meetings with Borrelli.

Attorney asks court to ignore racially charged Arizona GOP election law statements

That, according to Langhofer, did not allow him or other state attorneys to question Quezada before he testified. That, he claims, is “gamesmanship.”

However, Ernest Herrera, an attorney with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, contended that Quezada was on a list of witnesses to be summoned provided to the state. And it is the fault of the lawyers defending the laws for neglecting to interrogate him ahead of time to find out what he may say.

What makes all of this relevant is that a number of civil rights organizations, as well as the US Department of Justice, have asked U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton to overturn a pair of laws passed by the Republican-controlled legislature in 2022 that they claim were specifically designed to discourage minorities from voting.

Top Republican officials defending the measures say they are simply common-sense changes to ensure that only those eligible to vote can vote. That is challenging.

But whether Bolton determines they were implemented with “discriminatory intent,” which would violate the federal Voting Rights Act, might decide the case. And testimony regarding what Borrelli stated could help them establish that case.

“I said no such thing,” Borrelli told Capitol Media Services. “He is either hallucinating or completely fabricating for political gain, period.”

Nonetheless, Borrelli stated that he had not seen or heard exactly what was said by Quezada, who is no longer a state senator after declining reelection in 2022 to run for state treasurer.

“I’ve heard he said things,” Borrelli replied, declining to answer any inquiries. The two laws have numerous sections.

Bolton has previously banned the state from imposing one that states that only those who show proof of citizenship can vote for president.

While politicians are able to set specific standards for state and local elections, the National Voter Registration Act states that anyone who utilizes a form designed by the Election Assistance Commission is eligible to vote in federal elections. And that form requires merely that applicants sign a signed statement under penalty of perjury stating that they are, in fact, citizens.

Several additional topics remain unresolved.

One would force county recorders to forward to the attorney general the names of anyone suspected of attempting to register without being a citizen.

Opponents argue that referral can be based purely on the recorder’s inability to discover these names in certain databases. They further claim that the use of those databases “amounts to intentional race, national origin, and alienage discrimination.”

The constitutionality of a new need for persons to show documentary proof of residency – where they live — in addition to what was previously required has yet to be determined. All of this comes down to whether Republican lawmakers had a genuine — and non-racial — reason to approve the measure.

The challengers argue otherwise.

Attorney asks court to ignore racially charged Arizona GOP election law statements

“The proof of citizenship restriction continues a baseless assault on Arizona’s elections based on a conspiracy theory that non-citizens are voting, despite a persistent lack of credible evidence to support such claims,” according to the complaint. “It is the newest in a series of cynical and bad faith attempts to use these politically motivated and false allegations to limit access to voting by eligible, lawful citizens.”

The laws were defended by Mark Brnovich, the attorney general at the time. However, Kris Mayes, who assumed office in January, did not defend all of the rules.

So House Speaker Ben Toma, R-Peoria, and Senate President Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, obtained permission from Bolton to intervene and defend both acts. They also denied that the laws were intended to target minority votes.

That left Bolton to judge whether the statute had a racist motivation — and whether what Quezada has to say should be significant and should be considered evidence.

“The substance of my testimony was really about the technical aspects of the bill, what it did, why it hurt people, why it was bad, and why it hurts certain communities like my own,” Quezada said in a statement to Capitol Media Services.

Quezada stated that he discussed earlier Republican-controlled legislative efforts to suppress minority voting in Arizona, as well as how judges in other cases have stated that they had a discriminatory impact on communities of color.

However, this prompted attorneys for the challengers to question him about comments made by other members about why they passed such legislation. And Quezada, who sat on two committees with Borrelli, said he learned a lot from him.

“There were times when he talked about, ‘Well, this is because there are people in your area that are committing these crimes,'” he went on to say. Borrelli warned him of things like “registering dead people or people coming across the border and voting.”

“If your people weren’t doing that, we wouldn’t have to bring these bills,” he described Borrelli as saying.

Quezada stated that he told the court that such comments were not uncommon. He further said that during his testimony, Andy Biggs, the Senate president at the time, ordered Borrelli to go to Quezada’s office “and apologize for some of the offensive things he said.”

“And I remember that vividly because he came into my office and apologized — and then went off to say other offensive things on top of that,” Quezada told me.

That, according to Borrelli, never occurred.

Langhofer told the judge that the challengers “opaquely described Quezada’s testimony as ‘information regarding the challenged laws, including the origin, funding, sponsorship, merit, legality, lobbying, support, and legislative history’ in disclosing their witness list.

Only until Quezada took the stand, according to Langhofer, did the challengers’ attorneys question him about discussions he claimed he had with Borrelli — conversations that were not reported to Petersen and Toma’s attorneys.

According to Langhofer, federal rules prohibit a party from exploiting information that was not disclosed in advance. So he wants Bolton to not only ignore it but also strike it from the record.

According to Herrera of MALDEF, the fact that Langhofer and others were caught off guard is their own fault, as he was disclosed before to trial as a “person with information.”

“Intervenors had time to notice Mr. Quezada for a deposition — depositions proceeded until close to the time of trial — but they did not do so,” Herrera told the judge in Bolton. He stated unequivocally that the witnesses brought by challengers were called to offer information on “legislative intent, including inquiries about the involvement of particular legislators and third parties in the passage of the challenged laws.”

Bolton has not stated when she will rule.

All of this comes as Toma and Petersen lost their own bid to decline to answer questions from challengers regarding their support for both proposals. Both objected, claiming that doing so would violate the concept of “legislative privilege,” which states that parliamentarians are not required to answer inquiries about their thoughts.

However, Bolton determined — and the US Supreme Court agreed — that the information requested was critical to the law’s legitimacy.

“Motive is most often easily discovered by examining the unguarded acts and statements of those who would otherwise attempt to conceal evidence of discriminatory intent,” she went on to explain.

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