Redistricting Lawsuits Rejected

Comments Off

Rose Institute Web Image

The odds of survival for the state's first ever independently drawn political maps grew dramatically this afternoon, as the California Supreme Court summarily rejected legal challenges to the new districts for the state Senate and Congress.

The state's high Court rejected (PDF) the petitions filed by Republican activists against the maps for California's 40 state Senate districts and 53 congressional districts.

The decision, according to a news release issued by the Court, was unanimous by the seven justices.

Both sets of maps were challenged on grounds that they failed to meet the constitutional requirements set out in state law, via 2008's Proposition 11 and 2010's Proposition 20, and in federal law, via the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

At this point, attorneys for the plaintiffs -- Orange County GOP activist Julie Vandermost in the Senate lawsuit, former GOP congressman George Radanovich in the congressional lawsuit -- haven't commented on the Court's rejection.

It's unclear whether the congressional map, in particular, could be subject to any federal court jurisdiction. But what is clear in today's action is that there's no legal venue in California for critics of the maps, which were certified by the 14 member commission on August 15.

The decision also may have put the final stamp on the districts that will be used in the 2012 election cycle. That's because the only challenge that currently exists is the referendum campaign against the Senate maps (a congressional effort appears to have fizzled). And even if backers of the referendum submit enough signatures by mid November, the measure won't appear on the ballot until November 2012. That's the impact of Governor Jerry Brown's decision to sign S.B. 202, the controversial new law that pushes all initiative and referendum measures off of June statewide ballots.

Today's ruling will no doubt fuel another round of buzz about funding a referendum against S.B. 202. Recent reports cast doubt on the potential to find any money to gather the 504,000 valid signatures needed. But given that the qualification of a referendum against the new law may be the only way to block its implementation for 2012 -- and thus, allow a June election on the Senate redistricting map -- today's legal defeat for redistricting opponents may prompt a second look by skeptical political donors.

More on the decision to come... this posting will be updated as info comes in.

Update 5:15 p.m. Not surprisingly, the opposing sides in the lawsuits see the Court's action in quite different terms. Redistricting commissioner Stan Forbes says the fact that the Court didn't even hear oral arguments "goes to the strength of the job that we did."

But the attorneys in each of the lawsuits expressed shock that the justices didn't spend more time on legal filings that ran into the hundreds of pages. "I thought we raised, you know, substantive constitutional issues for them to consider," says attorney Chuck Bell. "And they've denied it without even issuing an opinion."

Bell also believes that the Court will likely have to revisit the Senate map -- if, as he expects, the referendum to overturn that map qualifies for the ballot. As I reported earlier this month, the lawsuit he brought on behalf of Vandermost argues that the law then would require the Court to draft interim Senate districts.

But one redistricting analyst isn't so sure.

"I think it's exceedingly likely that if the referendum qualifies and the court is put in the position of drawing temporary maps, it will just choose to adopt the commission's maps as the temporary standard," says Loyola Law School professor Justin Levitt. Levitt's reasoning is that because the Court has now effectively decreed the maps constitutional, then why can't they be used -- even if they're technically an 'interim' solution?

Meantime, the attorney in the congressional map lawsuit says their case could head to federal court. Steven Baric says that suit focuses on the rights of voters to equal protection. "That's really a federal issue," he said this afternoon. Baric says there's no timetable on when his clients will decide whether or not to take the case to a federal judge.

RSS Subscribe

About John Myers

John Myers is senior editor of KQED's new California Politics & Government Desk. He has covered California politics for most of the past two decades, serving previously as Sacramento bureau chief for KQED News and most recently as political editor for KXTV News10 (ABC) in Sacramento. In 2014, he was named one of the nation's top statehouse reporters by The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @johnmyers.

Comments are closed.