GOP asking court to halt use of new state Senate districts

California supreme court

Steve Rhodes/Flickr (by cc-nc-nd)

The California Supreme Court is wading into the battle over state senate districts today.

Republicans on Tuesday will ask the California Supreme Court to prohibit the use of newly drawn state Senate districts in this year's elections. They want the delay so they can try to qualify a ballot initiative intended to overturn the maps.

We're listening in on the hearing, which starts at 9 a.m., and we'll tell you know how it went afterward.
For now, more explanation of this case: GOP interests argue that their initiative is likely to qualify for the November ballot. That would trigger a provision of the state constitution that would halt use of the maps this year.

The districts at issue are the product of the California Citizens Redistricting Commission, a randomly selected, independent panel created by the voters. It was established to take authority for drawing political boundaries away from the state Legislature in response to decades of gerrymandering that preserved districts for incumbents and the two major parties.

District maps drawn by the 14-member panel were certified Aug. 15 for Congress, the state Assembly and Senate, and the state Board of Equalization, which administers sales and use taxes.

The new maps have created turmoil for both parties and dealt a blow to Republican efforts to maintain their waning political influence in the state.

The commission's boundaries are expected to lead to more Democratic-leaning districts because of the state's shifting demographics. Democrats have a better chance of reaching the critical two-thirds majority in the Senate than under the old maps, which would bring the party one step closer to being able to approve tax increases without Republican support.

Republicans contend the state Senate maps do not comply with the Voting Rights Act and did not meet the constitutional criteria for drawing the maps in a transparent process and in trying to keep communities together.

The state Supreme Court earlier rejected a lawsuit requesting an emergency stay for the Senate and congressional maps, but a provision in the law allows the courts to halt the use of the maps if a referendum is "likely" to qualify for the ballot. Proponents say their initiative meets that criteria.

Referendum supporters have turned in about 513,000 signatures. That is more than the 504,760 valid voter signatures they need but not enough to avoid a more detailed count by counties, a process that could take up to six weeks. Meanwhile, candidates are raising money and launching campaigns for the June primary contests.

The justices have several options: They could allow the redistricting commission's maps to be used temporarily; use the state Senate districts that have been in place since 2001; devise an alternate plan; or create temporary Senate districts out of pairs of Assembly districts drawn by the commission.

The Legislature has 80 Assembly members and 40 senators.

The newly drawn Assembly districts are not being challenged, but a separate lawsuit by Republicans is challenging the commission's congressional districts.

The challenge to the state Senate district was filed by Orange County resident Julie Vandermost. The California Republican Party is helping fund the ballot initiative but is not a participant in the case that will be heard Tuesday by the high court.

Ironically, it was Republicans who supported the ballot initiatives that took the once-a-decade redistricting responsibility away from the Legislature. Voters created the independent citizens commission in 2008 to redraw legislative boundaries and expanded its authority to congressional districts in 2010.

The party and other GOP interests decided to fight the maps when the new boundaries did not turn out as they had hoped.

The commission members — five Republicans, five Democrats and four independents — were selected in a random process overseen by the state auditor's office. At least nine commissioners had to support the new boundaries, including at least three each from Democrats, Republicans and independents.

The state Senate districts were approved 13-1.

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