Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Thursday, October 27, 2011


Page 1


S.C. Rejects Challenges to Senate, Congressional Remap Plans


From Staff and Wire Service Reports


The California Supreme Court on Wednesday unanimously rejected two Republican challenges to the state’s new electoral maps, dealing a blow to GOP efforts to halt the new lines that could diminish their political clout.

The justices, at their weekly conference in San Francisco, rejected mandate petitions asking the court to toss out the state Senate and congressional redistricting maps recently adopted by the California Citizens Redistricting Commission and draw the district lines themselves. The Supreme Court also rejected requests for an emergency stay that would have prevented use of the maps in 2012.

The commission had asked the court to reject the two lawsuits, arguing that opponents had failed to provide facts showing the commission’s work was unreasonable.  “The Supreme Court has struck a blow against politics as usual by upholding the fair and representative maps created by the Citizens Redistricting Commission,” said Commissioner Stan Forbes, a decline-to-state voter from Yolo County who is the current rotating chairman of the commission.

Voter Approval

Voters approved the citizen-led redistricting commission to independently create California’s legislative and congressional districts in response to decades of gerrymandering by lawmakers that preserved districts for incumbents and the parties. In July, the 14-member panel approved final versions of the district maps for Congress, the state Assembly and Senate, and the state Board of Equalization, which administers sales and use taxes.

The maps were certified Aug. 15. No one challenged the Assembly or SBE maps.

Republicans contend the Senate and congressional maps failed to comply with the Voting Rights Act and did not meet the constitutional criteria for drawing the maps in a transparent process and trying to keeping communities together.

“It’s a hard issue for courts and evidently they were prepared to defer very substantially to what the citizens commission did,” said Chuck Bell, an attorney representing Vandermost. Bell said he was disappointed that the court denied the petition without a hearing.

The California Republican Party is also backing a petition for a ballot referendum seeking to overturn the state Senate maps. The party has spent more than $1 million in recent weeks to try to collect 504,760 valid voter signatures for the referendum by mid-November. They have been helped by donors like George Joseph, owner of Mercury General Insurance Corp., who gave the state GOP party $1 million on Oct. 13, according to state records.

GOP Response

Should the party collect enough signatures to qualify a referendum, the party would be able to trigger a stay and the Senate lines would not be in place for candidates to run in the June primaries, unless the high court were to adopt them  as temporary maps.  “We are resolute in gathering the signatures necessary so that voters can weigh in on this matter,” California Republican Party Chairman Tom Del Beccaro said in a statement.

A notice of intent to circulate petitions for a referendum on the congressional maps has been filed as well, but lacks similar financial backing.

The new maps are expected to lead to more Democratic-leaning districts than the current lines as the state’s demographics have changed. Democrats have a better chance of reaching the critical two-thirds majority in the Senate than under the old maps, which would bring the party one step closer to being able to approve tax increases without Republican support.

The maps could also give Democrats opportunities to boost their congressional representation. The 53-member delegation currently includes 19 GOP lawmakers. There are nearly 500,000 more registered Democrats in California than a decade ago, 7.6 million in all, and 5.3 million registered Republicans, a drop from 5.4 million a decade ago. One-fifth of all registered voters now are not affiliated with any political party.

Ironically, it was Republicans who supported the ballot initiatives that took the once-a-decade redistricting responsibility away from the Legislature, although the state party organization did not support those measures.  Voters created the independent citizens commission in 2008 to redraw legislative boundaries and expanded its authority to congressional districts in 2010.

The commission members — five Republicans, five Democrats and four independents — were selected in a random process overseen by the state auditor’s office. At least nine commissioners had to support the new boundaries, including at least three each from Democrats, Republicans and independents.

Two of the commission’s Republican members, Michael Ward of Anaheim and Jodie Filkins Webber of Norco, voted against the new congressional boundaries, while Ward cast the lone vote against the Senate maps.

Sample Ballot Case

Bell, a Sacramento lawyer whose firm frequently represents Republican entities and candidates, got better news from the justices on another matter yesterday, as they unanimously denied review in Kunde v. Seiler  (2011) 197 C.A.4th 518.

The Fourth District Court of Appeal, Div. One, ruled in that case that a political party may include a letter in its voters’ sample ballot materials, soliciting funds, endorsing candidates, and expressing its position on ballot measures.

Div. One said such solicitations are permitted by Elections Code Sec. 13305, and that the section, as thus construed, does not violate the First Amendment or equal protection rights of individuals, or of groups that are not qualified political parties.

The justices affirmed the denial of a writ of mandate challenging the solicitation sent by the San Diego County Republican Central Committee to 2010 primary voters. The one-page letter asked voters to send donations to the party, and included an endorsement of candidates for county offices, as well as local positions in San Diego, Chula Vista, and Oceanside.

It also stated positions on state and local measures on the June ballot.

Thomas C. Kunde, a local voter and registered Democrat, sought a writ prohibiting the registrar of voters from sending out the letter.

He argued that statements made by the party violated Sec. 13305, which allows a party to provide “a party contributor envelope or a one-page letter” to be mailed to all voters affiliated with the party in that county, on condition that the party pay all associated costs, not criticize another party, provide a space for the name and address of the contributor; and inform the contributor how donations will be spent.

Kunde also contended that the statute was unconstitutional to the extent it permitted political parties to use the sample ballot to make political arguments that individuals or other groups could not make in that forum.

The Republican committee paid $23,000 in printing costs to include the letter in the sample ballot; mailing costs apparently were not charged because the letter did not increase the cost of sending the sample ballot.

San Diego Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Barton found that nothing in the statute prohibited the party from stating views on offices or ballot measures, but did not expressly rule on the constitutional questions.

Justice Joan Irion, writing for the Court of Appeal, said the appeal was technically moot, since the election was held last year, but that the issue is of public interest and likely to recur.

She concluded the trial judge correctly interpreted the statute, and that the section does not violate the rights of participants in the political process that are not qualified as political parties.

Under state law, she noted, any party may qualify for the ballot if it obtained two percent of the statewide vote for any office at the last gubernatorial election; reaches an affiliated total of one percent of the electorate at least 135 days before the primary; or files petitions signed by 10 percent of the voters.

Any qualified party may send out the Sec. 13305 solicitation, Irion said, and there was no evidence the limitation of the section to qualified parties “was motivated by an intent to exclude persons or groups who hold a specific viewpoint or ideology.”

If the restrictions do impose a burden on the rights of political actors who are not qualified parties, the jurist elaborated, the burden is “modest”—since such actors can communicate and solicit funds by other means—and is supported by the state’s significant interest in facilitating communications between a party and its members.

Bell represented the San Diego County Republican Central Committee, while the Santa Monica firm of Strumwasser & Woocher represented Kunde.

In other conference action, the court:

Agreed to decide whether county boards of education and other entities that charter public schools may revoke those charters on the basis of evidence presented outside the record of the statutorily mandated public hearing, and whether alleged bias on the part of the chartering entity necessitates a separate evidentiary hearing before a neutral factfinder.

Div. One of this district’s Court of Appeal, in Today’s Fresh Start, Inc. v. Los Angeles County Office of Education (2011) 197 C.A. 4th 436, reversed a judgment requiring that the Los Angeles County Office of Education reinstate the charter of Crenshaw-based Today’s Fresh Start, a nonprofit school whose charter was granted by the county in 2003 and renewed in 2005. The county board voted to revoke the charter in 2007, finding that the school failed to correct several deficiencies identified by LACOE.

The high court granted the school’s petition for review by a vote of 6-1, with Justice Joyce L. Kennard the lone opponent.

Let stand a ruling by this district’s Div. Three, which upheld the dismissal of a parolee’s suit against the state attorney general for violation of the Information Practices Act of 1977.

Robert Webster claimed that the Attorney General’s Office, in responding to his lawsuit seeking damages for the theft of his car from the parking lot of a state parole office, improperly disclosed the substance of the violation that he was discussing with his parole officer at the time. But the appellate court, in an unpublished opinion, said the anti-SLAPP statute applied because suit arose from a court proceeding and the plaintiff could not prevail because the litigation privilege applied.

The case, which no justice of the high court voted to hear, is Webster v. Office of the Attorney General, B226496.


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