On September 29th, 2011, former Republican Congressman George Radanovich, along with four others, filed a petition with the California Supreme Court arguing that the California Citizens Redistricting Commission racially gerrymandered the 37th, 43rd, and 44th congressional districts in order to favor three black incumbents in Los Angeles.
Since the release of the 2010 census numbers this past spring, the Citizens Redistricting Commission has gathered information on communities of interest throughout California and drawn new electoral boundaries to account for population and demographic shifts. The fourteen-member commission, comprised of five Democrats, five Republicans, and four independents, was created by the passages of California Propositions 11 in 2008 and 20 in 2010. On August 15, the Commission adopted its final electoral district boundaries for statewide maps covering California’s 53 congressional, 40 State Senate, 80 State Assembly, and 4 State Board of Equalization districts.
September 29th was the deadline for filing any petition to challenge these lines. On that day former Republican Congressman George Radanovich, along with Charles Patrick, Gwen Patrick, Omar Navarro, and Trung Phan, citizens living in the areas contested by the suit, filed a petition with the California Supreme Court challenging the newly drawn congressional district lines. The petition says the plan is unconstitutional under both the California Constitution and the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution. The petitioners argue that the lines “violate State Constitutional criteria of compactness, contiguity, and unnecessary divisions of two counties, and fail to draw districts that would afford Latino/Hispanic voters an opportunity to elect candidates of their choice under Section 2 of the federal Voting Rights Act, 42 USC § 1973(a).” Specifically, Radanovich contends the commission intentionally diluted African-American votes in three Los Angeles Area districts and packed several Hispanic districts in order to keep the three African-American incumbents in place. The suit claims that this alleged racial gerrymandering caused ripple effects for other districts throughout the Southern Californian region, raising further issues of compactness and state constitutionality. One such disrupted congressional district is, according to the suit, the 47th, which starts at Long Beach and reaches into portions of Orange County. The suit argues that the plan cuts the Orange County Asian community known as “Little Saigon” in half.
The petitioners have called upon several expert witnesses to support their case. Anthony Quinn, a veteran witness from the 2001 redistricting cases Andal v. Davis, Kennedy v. Davis, and Nadler v. Davis, addresses the applicability of the Voting Rights Act to the new Los Angeles-area districts. He contends that the commission ignored the legally binding testimony from its expert on racially polarized voting and its voting rights attorney by choosing not to draw African American majority districts in South and Southwest Los Angeles County as required by Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. According to the suit, one, if not two, 50+% voting age population African American districts are possible there. By creating 3 non-Section 2 African American Districts and only five Hispanic Section 2 Districts, the suit alleges racial bias in favor of African Americans that under represents Hispanic voters given their population growth over the past decade.
Also cited in the suit is Arturo Vargas, Executive Director National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund. Vargas testified to the Commission in July 2011 that the Commission’s Hispanic Voting Rights Act districts had unnecessarily high percentages of Hispanic voters, thereby racially packing the districts and reducing the number of Hispanic VRA districts.
As a remedy, the suit requests that the court appoint a special master to draw new lines that would “properly draw the required Section 2 district in south and southwest Los Angeles County, to draw a sufficient number of Latino Section 2 districts elsewhere in the county, to redrew the suburban districts surrounding the urban Section 2 districts in a constitutional manner, and to the adjust for the rippling effects on districts in Ventura, San Bernardino, Orange, Riverside and San Diego Counties.” If the high court (or a federal court in a follow-up lawsuit) agrees with Radanovich and orders that the lines be redrawn, the court master would have a very short period of time in which to do so. Whether the court master completely re-did the commission’s 53 districts or just slightly altered them, it would have to be done to be ready for the primaries a mere nine months away. However, it is certainly possible; the Court and Special Master in 1991 completed the work of drawing lines from scratch in just two months.
This legal challenge comes in addition to a referendum drive, begun just over a month ago by the maps opponents, which would allow the voters to decide the fate of the congressional districts. Recent news reports suggest that most signature-gathering work for that referendum has been suspended.
For more information on the Radanovich v. Bowen Lawsuit, visit the Litigation Under Proposition 11 page on the California Court’s website at http://www.courts.ca.gov/15165.htm.