Friday, January 4, 2002
Three Latino Groups Ask U.S. to Challenge Supervisorial Redistricting Plan
By ROBERT GREENE, Staff Writer
Three Los Angeles groups yesterday asked the U.S. Department of Justice to challenge a redistricting plan for the Board of Supervisors, hoping to repeat a successful drive a decade ago to throw out a supervisorial election and redraw district boundaries to empower Latino residents.
Alan Clayton of the Los Angeles County Chicano Employees Association said he hoped the Justice Department would bring a lawsuit against the current plan under Sec. 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. He said his group, as well as the California Latino Redistricting Coalition and the Latino Coalition for Fair Reapportionment, prepared maps detailing the superiority of a plan they prepared but was rejected by county officials last year in favor of another plan that makes only minor changes in boundaries of the five county supervisors’ districts.
“I think the Justice Department will pay attention to our maps,” Clayton said.
The groups argue that the county should be redivided in a way that will support the election of two Latino supervisors. The board currently has one Latino, one African American and three Anglos.
District lines are redrawn every 10 years based on demographic information in the latest census.
Using 2000 census numbers, the Board of Supervisors adopted a redistricting plan last year that already has been precleared by the Justice Department—a step that was required by a federal court that found in 1990 that districts had been redrawn for years to support incumbents at the expense of the burgeoning Latino population.
But Clayton said the supervisors’ current plan is vulnerable under another section of the Voting Rights Act and under the 14th Amendment, as interpreted in the 1993 U.S. Supreme Court case of Shaw v. Reno.
He said the current First Supervisorial District amounted to a violation of the Shaw ruling because it is “packed” with a 74.9 percent Latino voting population.
“Packing” refers to the concentration of a minority group into one district, so that voters there may elect a candidate of their choice but are kept out of a majority position in other districts.
“The [Chicano Employees Association] Plan does not pack Latinos into the First District and therefore does not fragment the Latino community in the San Gabriel Valley by taking large blocks of Latinos from the San Gabriel Valley (as does the adopted plan), the groups said in their request to the Justice Department. “The result is that the LACCEA plan creates two Latino majority population supervisorial districts..., thus dealing with the Latino population and Latino voter registration and the growth of Latino new citizens in Los Angeles County since 1990.”
County supervisors adopted the current plan last July, following recommendations of a 10-member redistricting panel. The plan makes only minor adjustments to the district boundaries adopted under court order in 1990.
Until then, the Board of Supervisors consisted of five white males. A Republican Latino woman made a runoff in 1990 to fill an open seat, but the election was voided by a federal judge in the case of Garza v. Los Angeles County.
The ruling, upheld by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, invalidated a supervisorial election based on district lines that diminished the voting power of Latino residents. The county was ordered to draw new district lines, resulting in the creation of the current First District and the election of Gloria Molina, the first Hispanic Los Angeles County supervisor in modern times.
The politics, as well as the demographics, have shifted in Los Angeles County since then. Molina’s election moved the board from a three-Republican majority to a Democratic majority. In the federal arena, the Department of Justice under Republican Attorney General John Ashcroft is absorbed in the apprehension and prosecution of suspected terrorists.
But the Garza case, which helped eliminate the Republican majority on the board, was prosecuted by a Republican administration’s Justice Department.
Clayton and the Latino groups have been involved in a series of failed attempts to revamp the Board of Supervisors. They were unable to pressure the board to place a ballot measure to expand the board to nine members before voters, and were likewise unable to put a term limits measure on the ballot.
A lawsuit settlement with another group forced the board to put term limits on the March 5 ballot.
Molina is also up for re-election on that ballot, facing one opponent, as is Zev Yaroslavsky—with no opposition.
Redistricting efforts also are under way for the Los Angeles City Council and the Los Angeles Unified School District. Clayton said he is looking for major changes in those districts as well and hopes to see Latinos obtain a voting majority in five council districts.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company