Today’s California Supreme Court Redistricting Case Explained
The California Supreme Court today heard oral arguments in Vandermost v. Bowen , a rather complicated case related to the redistricting lines that the California Citizens Redistricting Commission drew last year, and which the state Republican Party is none too happy about.
Our Sacramento Bureau Chief John Myers was at the courtroom tweeting. His blog post on today’s arguments is now up.
“It was a debate inside the chambers of the state’s highest court that only legal beagles and redistricting junkies would love,” Myers writes. If either of those describes you, click here to read on.
Earlier, Myers explained what’s at stake in the case:
As everyone will remember, voters stepped in and stripped the legislature of its power to draw political boundaries, first in 2008 with Prop 11 and then in 2010 with Prop 20, handing the task to an independent citizens commission.
In those two measures there is specific language that lays out what happens if the maps are challenged in court and what happens if someone tries to overturn them by qualifying a referendum through the ballot.
That’s where we are now: We have a group of Republicans that have filed a ballot referendum, and gathered signatures in the process of being verified and counted to see if the measure qualifies for the November ballot.
And so the question in front of the state Supreme Court court this morning is what happens while that process is moving forward. What happens if the supporters of that referendum think it is likely to qualify for the ballot, and what happens if it actually does qualify for the ballot?
Because the supporters of this referendum (and a lawsuit challenging the maps as well) contend that the law now says the disputed state senate maps drawn by the independent commission cannot be used in 2012 if they’re being challenged with a ballot referendum. They say the state Supreme Court would have to step in and draw their own maps.
The defendants in the case are Secretary of State Deborah Bowen and the state of California through the attorney general’s office. They’re going to make the case that the court does not have to step in and draw new temporary maps for the state senate.
At the end of the day, this is really a fight over what political districts are drawn to elect members of the California State Senate in 2012. Will the voters be looking at districts that were drawn by the independent citizens commission or will they have to use districts that are temporary and drawn by the California Supreme Court, or possibly even the old districts, which have existed for the last 10 years?
The plaintiffs, which are a Republican activist from Orange County supported by other members of the California Republican Party, believe the court has to step in and block the use of those state senate maps drawn by the independent commission. They believe that the language of Prop 20 mandates that the court step in and block the use of them, even temporarily, until the voters get to weigh in on the referendum that they hope will be on the November ballot.
There are two practical effects to this entire case: First, what happens to candidates? You’ve got candidates already lining up to run for the California State Senate in 2012; in some cases they have taken out the filing papers already, and they’re planning to run based on where they think the district boundaries are that were set by the citizens redistricting commission. If the court intervenes, those candidates may find they no longer live in that district or that the district lines have changed in a way that they no longer want to run for office. So one practical argument you’ll hear is that this process is already underway and it’s too late to redraw the lines for 2012.
I think you’ll see the court rule sooner rather than later, because we are getting very tight here on time in terms of elections for 2012. We already have candidates taking out filing papers and raising money, and ballot documents are being drafted in counties across California. So if those senate districts that the commission drew are going to be blocked and not used, folks are going to need to know that very soon.