Calif. Supreme Court upholds state Senate maps
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – The California Supreme Court on Friday upheld the state Senate maps drawn last year by an independent redistricting commission, dealing a blow to GOP attempts to block Democrats from gaining enough seats so they can pass taxes on their own.
The high court announced its unanimous decision that the Senate maps drawn by the commission should be used in the June primary and November general election, even though an initiative challenging the map is expected to qualify for the ballot.
Republicans are seeking an initiative to overturn the new boundaries and wanted the new maps tossed out until voters decide the issue. The court first had to find whether it even had the authority to act because the GOP initiative has yet to qualify.
The justice concluded that they did have jurisdiction “and that the petition presents issues sufficiently ripe for review.”
The court found that the maps drawn by the California Citizens Redistricting Commission were “clearly the most appropriate map to be used in the 2012 state Senate elections even if the proposed referendum qualifies for the ballot.”
Republicans stand to lose seats to Democrats under the Senate maps because of the state’s shifting demographics, giving Democrats a better chance of reaching a critical two-thirds majority in the Senate. If Democrats achieve that threshold, they would be able to approve tax increases without Republican support in one house of the Legislature.
Orange County Republican activist Julie Vandermost filed the lawsuit in October. She and GOP interests contend the commission did not meet the constitutional criteria for drawing the maps in a transparent way and in trying to keep communities together, violating the federal Voting Rights Act.
Neither the California Republican Party nor the redistricting commission had an immediate response to Friday’s ruling.
The Supreme Court justices had several options in considering the case: They could allow the temporary use of the redistricting commission’s maps; 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 40-member Senate has half the number of lawmakers as the state Assembly, where Democrats also are in the majority but any change in the balance of power is less certain under the newly drawn political boundaries.
The state Senate boundaries were part of the work done last year by the 14-member citizens redistricting commission, an independent panel created by voters to take the once-a-decade redistricting process away from the Legislature. The commission also drew new boundaries for the Assembly, congressional districts and the state Board of Equalization based on 2010 Census figures.
California voters created the commission in 2008 and expanded its authority to congressional districts in 2010, taking away the highly politicized process of redistricting from state lawmakers.
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.
Supporters of the Republican referendum attempt have turned in petitions with 711,000 voter signatures. The secretary of state’s office said it will determine by Feb. 24 whether the petitions have the roughly 505,000 valid signatures needed to qualify for the November ballot.
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