Wednesday, January 19, 2022

GOP Legal Challenge Seeks California County Change

The California Supreme Court has been asked to dismiss legal advisers from the State Independent Districts Commission and force the disclosure of private meetings and studies of racial voting patterns, a legal issue as the commission is in the final stages of developing new political maps.

Harmit Dillon, a San Francisco attorney and a member of the Republican National Committee, filed a request Tuesday in the state’s highest court on behalf of a group of GOP voters. This week, the California Citizens’ Redistribution Commission began to consider changes to drafts of maps issued last month for the state’s congressional, legislature, and Equalization Council districts.

The commission must certify their cards no later than December 26th.

The lawsuit alleges that the Constituency Reallocation Commission is “betraying its charter” without disclosing reports of “reallocating stakeholder cases outside of CRC’s observed public meetings,” and that its external attorneys have “a vested interest in constituency boundaries.” …

Fourteen commissioners – five Democrats, five Republicans, and four people not affiliated with any political party – were selected in the summer of 2020 to revise California’s political maps, a process that is being carried out every ten years as new census data become available. Work began months later than expected after the COVID-19 pandemic delayed completion of the census until August. This, in turn, has dramatically reduced the time it takes for the commission to review maps ahead of the statewide elections in 2022.

Pedro Toledo, the commissioner who is currently chairing the commission, said on Thursday that the legal petition was still pending.

“This commission’s commitment to transparency consistently goes far beyond what is required by law, and the public continually praises the Commission for its transparency and responsiveness,” Toledo said in an e-mail statement.

An emergency relief petition filed on behalf of five California voters alleges that individual and small groups of commissioners met in private with groups seeking to influence the final action of the commission. The plaintiffs submitted documents obtained through formal filing requests showing tapes taken during meetings with members of groups that advocate for Hispanic communities, business interests, and government reform efforts.

Similar concerns were raised in the spring, as evidenced by a sharply worded letter to the commission from Charles Munger, Jr., a prominent Republican donor who funded much of the constituency change campaign in 2008 and 2010.

“The disclosed notes indicate that CRC panelists met with stakeholders to discuss the reallocation of polling stations outside of CRC meetings and without publicly releasing meeting reports,” the legal filing says. “So there was no public notice and no opportunity to participate, comment or know what was discussed, or even that there was a discussion.”

Community input is often cited as a key component of district redistribution, as communities urged commissioners not to divide certain regions when drawing new lines for representation in Washington and Sacramento. For example, local support for a single constituency for much of San Joaquin County may have helped the commission decide to revise early terrain sketches ahead of the release of draft maps last month.

The plaintiffs in the case also asked the court to order the District Redistribution Commission to issue a private report analyzing historical patterns of racial voting in parts of California, an important building block in mapping to comply with the federal Voting Rights Act. The report was prepared by consultants hired by the panel, and although it is frequently mentioned in recent meetings, it has not been published.

Draft maps of Congress and Legislatures were posted on the Internet with information on the population of each constituency, disaggregated by race and ethnicity. But the underlying reasons why certain Californian communities will be divided based on these constituencies – reasons purportedly based on a study of past racially divided voting trends – remain unclear.

Perhaps the most far-reaching demand made to the California Supreme Court on Tuesday is for the County Redistribution Commission to fire Strumwasser & Woocher, a Los Angeles-based law firm that was serving as an advisor to the state Legislature. The firm’s website also mentions its work for former President Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns.

“The CRC not only violates its constitutional independence by sharing incurably conflicting advice with the legislature,” the legal filing states, “it also uses its relationship with this firm — on the advice of that firm — to hide an influential vote. district analysis under public scrutiny, in violation of the law establishing the CRC. “

In May, Strumwasser & Woocher signed a contract with state officials that would entrust the firm with the task of writing a final commission report detailing how the 52 congressional districts, 120 legislative districts, and four state councils are mapped. by equalizing districts. – comply with the federal law on electoral rights. The contract also included provisions to ensure that the attorneys appointed to the commission did not discuss working with anyone in the firm “lobbying for district redeployment issues.”

If the state Supreme Court agrees with any or all of Tuesday’s requests, judges may be forced to adjust the timeline for final certification of California’s new cards as well. This summer, a court rejected a request from the Constituency Reallocation Commission to extend the period after warnings by election officials that preparations for the June 2022 primaries would be jeopardized by delays in new political maps.

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