Monday, January 30, 2012
High Court Upholds Use of Commission’s Senate Map This Year
From Staff and Wire Service Reports
The California Supreme Court on Friday upheld the state Senate maps drawn last year by an independent redistricting commission, dealing a blow to GOP attempts to block Democrats from gaining enough seats so they can pass taxes on their own.
The high court ruled unanimously that the Senate map drawn by the commission should be used in the June primary and November general election, even though Republicans say they expect a referendum on the use of the map to qualify for the ballot.
A random sampling of the 711,311 signatures collected resulted in an estimate that opponents of the map had just over the 504,760 required. But because the estimate failed to clear that hurdle by at least 10 percent, a full count of the signatures is required by law.
The secretary of state reported Friday that county officials have looked at 125,769 signatures, with a validation rate of 71.72 percent. If that rate were to hold statewide, the referendum would make it on to the ballot, with about 5,000 signatures to spare.
But the largest counties in the state generally have not finished counting, which they have until Feb. 24 to do. In the three largest counties to finish their checks, Santa Clara, Contra Costa, and Kern, the validation rates were 70.1, 74.3, and 68.9 percent, respectively.
Statewide, at least 70.8 percent of the remaining signatures must be validated for the referendum to qualify.
Secretary of State Debra Bowen argued that the court lacked jurisdiction to hear the challenge because the petitioner, Orange County Republican activist Julie Vandermost, could not show that the referendum was “likely to qualify” for the ballot within the meaning of Art. XXI, Sec. 3(b)(2) of the California Constitution. The high court disagreed.
“The sentence of article XXI, section 3(b)(2) in question—containing the ‘likely to qualify’ language — was not intended, and cannot reasonably be interpreted, to limit or restrict this court’s authority under article VI, section 10 to determine that such an original writ proceeding is appropriately ripe for adjudication and resolution at an earlier point in time,” Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye wrote.
But on the substance, the justices found that the map drawn by the Citizens Redistricting Commission was “clearly the most appropriate map to be used in the 2012 state Senate elections even if the proposed referendum qualifies for the ballot.”
With the recent announcement by Sen. Sam Blakeslee, R-San Luis Obispo, that he would not run if the commission map was used, Democrats believe they have several opportunities to reach the 27 seats needed for a two-thirds majority. Republicans did not challenge the commission’s Assembly map, which is not expected to produce major changes in the makeup of the lower chamber.
Cantil-Sakauye said the commission map was superior to any of three alternatives proposed by Vandermost—keeping the current map, with tweaks to three districts that have undergone substantial population shifts; a “nesting” map in which each Senate district would be made up of two of the unchallenged Assembly districts; and a new map drawn by Tony Quinn, a Republican redistricting expert.
“We are aware of no basis upon which to reasonably question the legality of the commission’s certified state Senate map,” the chief justice wrote. “This clearly distinguishes the commission-certified map from each of the alternatives proposed by petitioner.”
The current map, Cantil-Sakauye said, even with the proposed modifications, would contain wide population disparities that would likely violate the “one-person, one-vote” principle. The nesting map would be of questionable validity under the Voting Rights Act, would split existing communities to a greater extent than the commission map, and would increase the number of voters subject to “double-deferral,” meaning that some voters who did not elect a senator in 2010—because only half the Senate is elected every two years—would not get to elect one in 2012 either.
The Quinn map or “model plan,” the chief justice explained, is one for which supporting documentation was not submitted, meaning the court would have to appoint a special master to evaluate it. “At this late stage in the schedule of election preparations, there simply does not exist sufficient time to adequately consider such an undefined new map,” Cantil-Sakauye wrote.
Her opinion was joined by all of the justices except Goodwin H. Liu, who concurred separately. Liu agreed that the court has jurisdiction but said that since the court agreed that the commission map was superior to all alternatives, it was unnecessary to lay out guidelines as to what criteria the court would consider in connection with future challenges to maps drawn by the independent body.
Peter Yao, the acting chairman of commission, told The Associated Press that Friday’s decision was a great victory for the people of California” and said it was important for the stability of the electoral process in the state. “It is regrettable that these challenges, based on partisan self-interest, have cost precious taxpayer dollars to defend the work of the people’s commission,” said Yao, a Republican from Claremont.
California Republican Party Chairman Tom Del Beccaro said the court ignored the text of the original ballot measure passed by voters, which said the Supreme Court should hold off on using the commission’s boundaries if a referendum is likely to qualify.
“This is incredible, what they did,” Del Beccaro said. “The Supreme Court agreed with us on the merits and then chose to ignore the Constitution. They severely undermined the rule of law today.”
The case is Vandermost v. Bowen, 12 S.O.S. 355.
Copyright 2012, Metropolitan News Company