Voting Rights Act Case To Affect California Congressional Districts

Yesterday, the US Supreme Court agreed to hear Bartlett v. Strickland, a Section 2 Voting Rights Act case with potentially major implications for California’s African American members of Congress.

The North Carolina case poses the question whether a group that constitutes less than 50 percent of a district’s population can state a vote dilution claim under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. California’s four Congressional Districts represented by African Americans (the 9th, 33rd, 35th, and 37th) all have total African American populations below 40 percent: 28%, 32%, 36% and 26%, respectively using 2000 Census data. If the Court rules that such districts do not enjoy Section 2 protection, District 9 in Northern California and the three Los Angeles Districts would lose their protected status under Section 2 of the Federal Voting Rights Act.

This does not mean the Districts would disappear in 2011, or even that the three Los Angeles Districts would necessarily be collapsed down to two or possibly even only one District. The eventual redistricting decisions are the result of the highly politicized redistricting process (unless there is reform between then and now . . .). But the districts, in particular the three in Los Angeles, would lose important leverage in the process as pressure grows to draw more Latino districts in the region.

Obviously the Court’s eventual decision is unknown. The case could go the other way and solidify the legal basis for the existing districts. There is also the chance that the Court will further explain its ruling in the Texas LULAC v. Perry case. But the potential impact of a decision the other way, especially in California, could be significant.

For other reactions, see Gerry Hebert and Rick Hasen.

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