Report: Arizona Statute Does Not Apply to Giffords’ Seat

Posted January 18, 2011 at 9:32pm

An Arizona statute governing vacancies in public office does not apply to federal offices and therefore will not affect Rep. Gabrielle Giffords as the Democrat recovers from a gunshot wound, Capitol Media Services reported Tuesday.

The Washington Post first reported about the obscure statute, which holds that a public office shall be deemed vacant if the officeholder does not “discharge the duties of office for the period of three consecutive months.”

But a spokesman for Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett, the state’s chief election officer, told Capitol Media Services that the law does not apply to federal offices. The article appeared Tuesday on the Arizona Daily Star’s website.

“A vacancy would have to be declared by the U.S. House, not the state of Arizona,” said Matthew Benson, the spokesman for Bennett.

Paul Bender, the former dean of the Arizona State University College of Law, agreed that it would be up to Congress to determine whether a vacancy exists. He noted that federal courts have limited states’ ability to decide who can serve in federal office. For instance, the Supreme Court ruled in 1995 that term limits adopted by Arizona and 22 other states could not be applied to Members of Congress.

Giffords, 40, was shot in the head Jan. 8 in an attack in Tucson, Ariz., that killed six people and wounded 13. She is in serious condition at University Medical Center in Tucson.

Doctors have cautioned that her recovery would be long. Neurosurgeons “don’t even close the book on [recovery] for several years,” Dr. Michael Lemole, UMC’s chief neurosurgeon, said the day after the shooting.