Arizona’s Constitution requires that each bill passed by its Legislature contain only one subject and have a clear title to identify that single subject.[1]  But who gets to decide whether these constitutional provisions have been met?  Is it a non-justiciable political question so that the Legislature and the Governor get to decide, or is it a question for the courts?  And what’s the proper remedy if either of these provisions have been violated?

In Arizona School Boards Association, Inc. v. State, the Arizona Supreme Court recently confronted these questions when the Arizona School Boards Association and others challenged four budget reconciliation bills the Legislature had passed.[2]  These plaintiffs alleged that all four bills violated the title requirement and that one also violated the single subject rule.[3]  The trial court agreed with the plaintiffs and invalidated the parts of the three bills not identified by their titles and invalidated the entire bill that failed to comply with both the title requirement and the single subject rule.[4]  After transferring the appeal from Arizona’s intermediate appellate court directly to itself to quickly resolve the case,[5] the Supreme Court unanimously agreed with the trial court and affirmed its ruling.[6]

But the Supreme Court disagreed with the trial court’s reasoning about why these plaintiffs had standing (or the legal ability) to bring these challenges.[7]  The trial court and the plaintiffs relied on, among other cases, a federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals case “for the proposition that an organization has standing to challenge the constitutionality of a statue if it demonstrates merely that the contested statute drained its resources and frustrated its mission.”[8]  The Supreme Court said instead that its “view, however, aligns with other federal courts that have held that ‘an organization cannot establish standing if the only injury arises from the effect of [a challenged action] on the organizations’ lobbying activities, or when the service impaired is pure issue advocacy.’”[9]  It went on to say that this “approach prevents parties from eviscerating the standing requirement by merely asserting an interest.”[10]  Still, it agreed that the parties here had standing.

It also rejected the state’s “untenable proposition” that only the Legislature “may determine whether its bills satisfy [the] constitutional [title and single subject] requirements.”[11]  The Court said that this case did not present a non-justiciable political question and instead “implicates our courts’ core constitutional authority and duty to ensure that the Arizona Constitution is given full force and effect.”[12]  Citing Marbury v. Madison, it said that the “responsibility of determining whether the legislature has followed constitutional mandates that expressly govern its activities is given to the courts—not the legislature.”[13]  It concluded that “manageable standards exist to resolve the question, as courts have enforced the title requirement and single subject rule for decades.”[14]

Justice Clint Bolick wrote a separate one-paragraph concurrence making clear that he “agree[d] entirely with [his] colleagues’ reasoning and disposition,” but reiterating his belief that the ‘“manageable standards’ inquiry in the political question context . . . is not constitutionally mandated, and abdicates the judiciary’s central role in determining whether the political branches have traversed constitutional boundaries.”[15]

This decision shows that Arizona’s Supreme Court intends to closely monitor and apply the title and single subject requirements from its state’s constitution.


[1] Ariz. Const. art. 4, pt.2, § 13 (stating that “[e]very act shall embrace but one subject and matters properly connected therewith, which subject shall be expressed in the title”).
[2] Arizona Sch. Boards Ass’n, Inc. v. State, 501 P.3d 731 (Ariz. 2022).
[3] Id. at 733.
[4] Id.
[5] Id. (citing Ariz. R. Civ. App. P. 19(a); Ariz. Early Childhood Dev. & Health Bd. v. Brewer, 212 P. 3d 805, 807 (2009)).
[6] Id. (citations omitted) (stating a “violation of the title requirement voids the portion of the act not expressed in the title, but the compliant part of the act survives” and stating that an “act that violates the single subject rule is void in its entirety because no mechanism is available for courts to discern the act’s primary subject”).
[7] Id.
[8] Id. (citing Valle del Sol Inc. v. Whiting, 732 F.3d 1006 (9th Cir. 2013), which the trial court and plaintiffs relied on).
[9] Id. (quotations omitted) (citing Equal Means Equal v. Ferriero, 3 F. 4th 24, 30 (1st Cir. 2021) (quoting People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals v. U.S. Dep’t of Agric., 797 F.3d 1087, 1093–94)).
[10] Id.
[11] Id.
[12] Id.
[13] Id. (citing Marbury v. Madison, 5. U.S. (1 Cranch) 137, 178 (1803)).
[14] Id. 
[15] Id. (Bolick, J., concurring).

 

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