Monday, July 20, 2020
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court on Friday granted a writ of mandate sought by the state Legislature to extend the deadlines for voter redistricting maps in light of the coronavirus pandemic that has created delays in gathering and processing U.S. Census Bureau data.
“This year, the usual order of redistricting operations has been upended by the COVID-19 pandemic, a public health crisis caused by a newly discovered coronavirus that has spread rapidly around the globe, on a scale not seen in a century,” Justice Leondra R. Kruger wrote for a unanimous court.
The court has the inherent power, in a rare case, to reform a statute in order to carry out the legislative intent, she said. In the present instance, Kruger wrote, the exercise of that power is necessary in light of the impossibility of the Citizens Redistricting Commission meeting the July 1, 2021 statutory deadline for displaying preliminary maps “if the Census Bureau does not deliver the federal data until July 31, 2021,” as anticipated.
The Legislature filed an emergency petition in June asking the high court to issue a peremptory writ of mandate granting a four-month extension to release draft maps for public comment, then approve and certify final redistricting maps. Both Secretary of State Alex Padilla and the citizens commission supported the Legislature’s request.
Redistricting advocates including former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the League of Women Voters of California signed an amicus letter urging the Supreme Court to grant the relief.
Lacking statutory authority to change redistricting deadlines, the Legislature’s only alternative to court relief would have been to put the matter before voters as a constitutional amendment.
The Census Bureau halted field operations in April due to the pandemic, then slowly resumed field work in following months. Census data released to states is expected to be delayed by up to four months.
The extended deadlines now require the commission to release preliminary statewide maps no later than Nov. 1, 2021. Final statewide maps must be approved and certified by Dec. 15, 2021.
Addressing the prospect of further delay by the Census Bureau, the writ provides:
“If the federal government transmits the census data to the state later than July 31, 2021, the number of days of additional delay shall be considered to be the ‘additional federal delay.’ In the event additional federal delay occurs, the Commission is directed to release the first preliminary statewide maps by no later than the date following November 1, 2021, that extends the November 1 deadline by the additional federal delay, and to approve and certify the final maps by no later than the date following December 15, 2021, that extends the December 15 deadline by the additional federal delay.”
The case is Legislature of the State of California v. Padilla, 2020 S.O.S. 3570
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