Disgruntled Californians can challenge new districts in court, or at ballot box

Preliminary final congressional maps
Preliminary final congressional maps
California Citizens Redistricting Commission

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The citizens commission that drew new political districts in California approved its first set of maps last Friday. The commissioners will ratify the new congressional and state legislative districts on August 15.

Voters or political parties that don’t like the new political boundaries now have to take their challenge to court or the ballot box.

Voters established strict criteria for how to draw new districts for congressional and state legislative districts: they must be competitive, geographically compact and drawn without regard for incumbents or political parties. They must uphold the voting rights of minorities; they have to preserve communities.

Commissioner Connie Galambos Malloy of Alameda says the new district maps do all of that. "In complying with the law, the commission is confident that these maps will prevail against any and all legal challenges. We also believe that the new districts will be upheld in the court of public opinion."

Fox & Hounds blogger Tony Quinn disagrees. "I think the Senate plan was corrupted by partisan motives on the part of at least a couple of the commissioners."

The new state Senate districts could result in more seats for Democrats and a two-thirds majority to pass taxes. Quinn thinks somebody should challenge the Senate districts, but not in court.

"Redistricting cases tend to go on for a very long time and enrich a lot of lawyers," says Quinn. "If you want to get this matter to the Supreme Court, the way to do it is to go through the referendum process."

If a referendum ends up on the ballot, the state Supreme Court might appoint a special master to draw up temporary districts for the 2012 election. The justices could also keep the districts in place now until voters decide whether to adopt the commissions’ districts or strike them down.

The California Republican Party says it might sue or it might back a referendum, but it hasn’t said when it’ll do either.