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Will California's Newly Drawn Senate Maps Stand?

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The California State Senate chambers
The California State Senate chambers

Last week the California Supreme Court rejected a request by a GOP-supported coalition (known as FAIR, or Fairness & Accountability in Redistricting) to invalidate California's newly drawn state senate maps. Apparently undeterred by a denial of their petition for hearing to the state's highest court, the coalition is now asking the U.S. Department of Justice to invalidate the maps, particularly districts in Monterey and Merced. The group contends that the maps violate the Voting Rights Act by impermissibly diluting the voting power of Latinos. A cynic would say that the real reason behind the group's suits is that they realize that the new lines will likely lead to fewer republicans in the State Senate.

But wait, there's more. The group is also circulating a petition to place a referendum on the ballot which, if successful, would overturn the maps. Proponents of the referendum have to gather about 504,000 signatures by November 13 in order to get the referendum on next year's ballot. George Joseph, Mercury Insurance Chairman, recently gave the California Republican Party $1 million, and the party then gave at least $900,000 to support the referendum.

To understand the current battles, a bit of background is helpful. In 2008 and 2010 California voters approved initiatives which took the power of drawing state and federal legislative lines away from sitting legislators. Instead of allowing legislators to draw their own lines, the people of California opted to allow a 14-member independent redistricting commission to draw the lines. Many thought Republicans would benefit from the commission, not the democratically-controlled legislature, drawing the lines. However, the lines, drawn based on the most recent census data look likely to benefit Democrats, at least in the State Senate.

Again, a cynic would say this is much ado about nothing but sour grapes. Republicans are rightly worried that they could lose their one-third minority membership in the State Senate. If Democrats are able to garner two-thirds of the upper legislative house, it could make it much easier to implement a number of policies, including tax and fee increases.

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 Mathieu Thouvenin. It was used under a Creative Commons License.

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