Wednesday, January 15, 2020
Court of Appeal:
Opinion Says Enactment Singling Out One Local Entity Does Not Constitute Proscribed Special Legislation
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Court of Appeal for this district yesterday upheld the validity of legislation requiring the County of Los Angeles to set up an independent redistricting commission by the end of this year, charged with adjusting boundaries of supervisorial districts, with the justices rejecting the county’s contention that the 2016 enactment was unconstitutional special legislation.
Justice Carl H. Moor of Div. Seven wrote the opinion, which was not certified for publication. It affirms an order by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Amy D. Hogue denying a petition for writ of mandate sought by the county to block enforcement of SB 958.
That measure, authored by then-Sen. Ricardo Lara (now state insurance coimmissioner) and signed into law by then-Gov. Jerry Brown, requires that boundaries be determined every 10 years by a 14-member commission, not, as provided in the county Charter, by a two-thirds vote of the Board of Supervisors. Under SB 1108, also enacted in 2016, setting up a redistricting commission is permissible but not required for all counties other than Los Angeles (by virtue of SB 958) and San Diego (in light of earlier legislation requested by that county’s Board of Supervisors).
In challending SB 958, the county relied on Article IV, §16 of the state Constitution which provides:
“A local or special statute is invalid in any case if a general statute can be made applicable.”
“Here, there is no dispute that SB 958, applicable only to Los Angeles County, is a special statute….
“A special statute applying only to one identified county, however, may be valid.”
This is so, he said, where the state had a “reasonable justification” for singling out a particular county.
He recited that in 1990, both the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California and the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals concluded in Garza v. County of Los Angeles that the county’s supervisorial district boundary lines had been drawn in violation of the federal Voting Rights Act, and pointed to squabbling by board members 2011 over whether the lines should be adjusted to create a second Hispanic seat on the board.
The jurist declared:
“Here, we conclude that the Legislature acted reasonably, because the county’s size and diversity, when considered in the context of both its lengthy and acknowledged history of discrimination against Hispanic voters and the level of dissent and discord surrounding the 2011 redistricting effort, establish the county was uniquely in need of a mandated independent redistricting commission.
“In arguing that SB 958 lacks any rational basis, the county takes an extremely narrow view of various considerations, explaining why each reason—taken in isolation—could not provide a rational basis for singling out Los Angeles County….The county’s suggestion that each rationale for the enactment must be treated on its own is artificial: neither the Legislature nor this court is limited to considering each reason for an act in isolation, and a decision to enact legislation can reasonably be based on a constellation of factors. The population, diversity, and history of discrimination in Los Angeles County together provide a rational basis for the Legislature to have singled out the county to impose an independent redistricting commission.”
He said SB 958 “is a good government proposal, with a purpose to promote independence, transparency, and public participation in the process of drawing supervisorial districts, so that the county’s elected representatives are more responsive and accountable to their constituents.”
‘Heightened Scrutiny’ Unnecessary
The county contended that SB 958 should be subjected to “heightened scrutiny” because its purpose is to effect the election of a second Hispanic supervisor. Moor responded:
“The county’s argument is misguided because SB 958 changes the process—not the outcome—of drawing district boundaries. SB 958 does not implement a race-based remedy, nor does it ensure any particular outcome in how boundaries are drawn.”
Invalidity of the measure was also asserted based on Art. II, §6 of the state Constitution, which provides:
“All…county…offices...shall be nonpartisan.”
This is not so, under SB 958, the county contended, because it provides that membership on the commission shall be “as proportional as possible to the total number of voters who are registered with each political party in the County of Los Angeles.”
“[T]he purpose of the proportionality requirement is to create a commission consisting of members that are balanced and reflective of the county’s diversity of political affiliations….Independent redistricting commissions are well-recognized as a key part of reducing ever-present issue of partisan gerrymandering…. Accordingly, we conclude that SB 958 does not violate the requirement that county offices be nonpartisan.”
Justice Lamar Baker said in a concurring opinion:
“This record suffices at present, though only just, to conclude the Legislature had rational justification here for resorting to the special law targeting the County. But it must also be said that the record and findings that now back SB 958 are weak justification for withdrawing in perpetuity the prerogative of County citizens to freely determine how their local representative should be elected, particularly in light of the intervening progress ameliorating the effects of discrimination that the County identifies in its briefs.”
“If the constraints of SB 958 remain in force after this upcoming redistricting cycle, and if the County were to again seek relief in court for the next round of redistricting (some 40-50 years after the discrimination highlighted by the courts in the Garza litigation), and if the legislative record backing the special obligations imposed only on the County looks the same then as it does today, I would expect the State to have a very difficult time defending SB 958 as a rational exercise of the Legislature’s special legislation power.”
The case is County of Los Angeles v. State of California, B290091.
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