Tuesday, November 20, 2018
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A 2012 redistricting by the Los Angeles City Council which increased the percentage of African-American voters in Council District 10 survived a challenge before the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals which yesterday held that race was not the predominant motivating factor behind the redistricting.
The opinion was written by Circuit Judge Jacqueline Nguyen. It affirms the summary judgment awarded by Senior District Court Judge Consuelo B. Marshall of the Central District of California.
Two groups of plaintiffs filed suit in the wake of the June 2012 redrawing of the City’s Council districts; the two cases were consolidated in August 2013. One group challenged the new Council District 10 (“CD 10”), while the other group challenged that district and two others.
City Council President Herb Wesson, the representative for CD 10, acknowledged his racial motivation shortly after the redistricting was finished. In July 2012, he said:
“We as African Americans make up only 9% of the population. 9%. If we didn’t all live clustered together, we would not have one council district. Not one.
“The Asians have 16% of the population. They don’t have one district. Why? Because they live all over. So it’s important for us to harness our resources because the most important asset again that we have as people is to make sure we have a black vote or two on that council. And that was my priority.”
Nguyen said that the plaintiffs’ equal protection claim could only stand if race the predominant motivating factor in drawing the new map. This, she explained, required a showing that race was more important than any other single factor in the council’s decision.
The plaintiffs pointed to Wesson’s comments after the redistricting to support their claim that such was the case. They also noted that Wesson had nominated Christopher Ellison to an ad hoc redistricting commission responsible for addressing CD 10, and that it was Ellison’s map which ultimately influenced the final version adopted by the council.
On January 11, 2012, Redistricting Commission Chair Arturo Vargas had proposed the use of ad hoc committees, a system which the council adopted. Under the scheme, three committees were created, one each to address the districts in the San Fernando Valley, west/southwest Los Angeles and east/southeast Los Angeles respectively.
Ellison’s map was not adopted by the committee for west/southwest Los Angeles, having tied with another proposed map by attorney Helen B. Kim, who had been appointed by then-City Controller Wendy Greuel. Although neither map won a majority of the committee’s votes, Ellison’s alone was advanced to the full city council.
(The opinion notes the record does not explain why Kim’s did not move forward).
The jurist wrote:
“This evidence certainly shows that race was a motivation in drawing CD 10. For Ellison and Wesson, it may have even been the only motivation. Ellison never offered any justification other than race for his proposed boundaries. But the relevant inquiry is whether ‘race was the predominant factor motivating the legislature’s decision’ as to the final boundaries.”
There was, among members of the City Council itself, a wide array of motivations. she observed.
The redistricting was started, in part, because of population imbalances across the city’s districts. Prior to the changes, for instance, CD 10 was nearly five percent short of its required population according to the 2010 census.
Once the committees made their recommendations to the council, the councilmembers reviewed them, holding a number of public hearings and making changes to the compiled map before settling on the final version.
Not Predominantly Racial
“Even viewed in the light most favorable to Plaintiffs,” Nguyen declared, “the record fails to show that these successive amendments were driven predominantly by racial considerations. Instead, the Commission’s final report and recommendations show that, overall, the Commission sought to rebalance the populations in each Council District, while preserving communities and unifying as many Neighborhood Councils as possible in a single Council District.”
“According to the Commission’s report, 53 of 95 Neighborhood Councils had been divided across more than one Council District, and 13 of the 53 were divided across more than two Council Districts. Under the Commission’s final proposed boundaries, the number of divided Neighborhood Councils was reduced from 53 to 29, and the number of Neighborhood Councils divided across more than two Council Districts was reduced from 13 to 3.”
The opinion also holds Marshall did not err in barring the depositions of Wesson and other city officials on the ground of legislative privilege.
The case is Lee v. City of Los Angeles, No. 15-55478.
Rex S. Heinke of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld in Los Angeles argued on behalf of the plaintiffs. Robin B. Johansen of Remcho Johansen & Purcell in Oakland appeared for the city.
Copyright 2018, Metropolitan News Company