What Will Become of California's Newly Drawn State Senate Districts?

Maps of California Senate Districts: 2001 (Left) and redrawn 2011 (Right). See them larger here.

For the first time in the state's history, an independent redistricting group drew state legislative and federal congressional district lines. Thanks to two successful ballot measures, those who stand to benefit the most from drawing district lines - sitting lawmakers - were extricated from the process. The independent redistricting commission's charge was, among other things, to create legislative districts which fairly reflected communities of interest, and to pay no heed to whether districts would benefit or harm incumbent lawmakers.

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Many praised the creation of the independent redistricting commission as a vital governmental reform. No longer would sitting lawmakers draw lines that ensured their future victory but not necessarily the fair representation of citizens.

But some are less than happy. A GOP group, Fairness & Accountability In Redistricting (yes, the group is actually known as "FAIR"), is now doing two of the things disgruntled Californians do best, suing and gathering signatures for a ballot measure. The Republican Party-supported group has asked the California Supreme Court to declare the new Senate districts are unconstitutional. The group is also collecting signatures for a proposed referendum that, if passed, would invalidate the Senate districts. Fairness & Accountability In Redistricting is largely supported by the Republican Party and many current and former Republican lawmakers.

Republicans are quite unsurprisingly unhappy by the new district lines. It is likely that they will lose seats if the newly drawn lines stand. The doomsday scenario for them would occur if Democrats were able to garner a two-thirds vote in the Senate. In California, a two-thirds supermajority vote is needed to raise fees and taxes.

But the explanation for likely Republican losses may be quite straightforward. The independent redistricting commission drew lines to account for demographic changes detailed in the census. Much of the state's growth came from Latinos and Asians, who typically lean and vote democratic.

For now Californians can expect do something quite familiar - observe partisan wrangling both in the courthouse and at the ballot box.

About the Author

Jessica Levinson is an Associate Clinical Professor at Loyola Law School. She focuses on the intersection of law and government.
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