The Long and Winding Road to Redistricting Reform

The California State Capitol
The California State Capitol

Apparently adhering to the old adage, "if at first you don't succeed, try, try again," opponents of the newly-drawn state and congressional maps are doing just that.

In 2008 and 2010 Californians voted to take the power to draw districts out of the hands of the legislature and give it to a 14-member independent redistricting commission. In the past the legislature did an incredibly successful job of drawing district lines that assured their easy re-election. Over the past 10 years, since the last redistricting, only one congressional seat changed party hands.

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This year, after obtaining the census data and listening to hours upon hours of public testimony the independent redistricting commission drew state legislative and congressional lines. It is all but inevitable that in the political blood sport we know as the redistricting process there will be at least one party unhappy with the outcome. This is, of course, unless both parties agree to draw safe districts in which incumbents are all but assured re-election, which is exactly what the California legislature did in 2001.

Under the maps created and finalized by the independent redistricting commission it seems a safe bet that Republicans will lose some seats. Therefore it is no surprise that Republicans have been leading the charge to invalidate or overturn them. Republicans have taken a two-pronged approach, attacking the maps both in the courts and at the ballot box.

Republicans first sought to have the maps overturned by the California Supreme Court, the state's highest court, which refused to hear the case. Undeterred, last week opponents of the new maps have now gone to federal court, seeking to have the legislative lines declared invalid under the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965. Simply put that federal law prevents the dilution of minority voting power.

Second, Republicans will be asking the people to invalidate the newly drawn maps at the ballot box. Last week the secretary of state said that a Republican-supported effort to get a November 2012 referendum on the ballot succeeded in gathering enough signatures to verify those signatures.

It now remains to be seen which maps will be used for the 2012 elections. While the federal judges can weigh in on the validity of the maps within a year, it is not clear whether the voters will have to once again weigh in before the newly drawn maps take effect.

My two cents: Voters twice said they wanted an independent redistricting commission, not legislators, to draw district lines. The commission has done just that. If members of the judiciary think the lines are valid then those line should stand and should be used in next year's elections.

Jessica Levinson writes about the intersection of law and government every Monday. She is a Visiting Professor at Loyola Law School.

The photo used on this post is by Flickr user Jeff's Canon. It was used under a Creative Commons License.

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