GOP legal challenge against California redistribution effort

The California Supreme Court has been called on to fire legal advisers from the state’s independent constituency commission and force disclosure of private meetings and research into race-based voting patterns, a court challenge launched as the panel is in the final stages of developing new political maps.

Harmeet Dhillon, a San Francisco attorney and member of the Republican National Committee, filed the demand Tuesday with the state’s highest court on behalf of a group of GOP voters. This week, the California Citizens Redistricting Commission began considering changes to draft maps released last month for congressional, legislative and state Equalization Board districts.

The commission must certify its cards by December 26 at the latest.

The legal challenge claims that the Redistribution Commission “betrays its founding charter” by not disclosing communications “on redistribution issues with interested parties outside of notorious public meetings of the CRC” and that its outside lawyers have “a vested interest. in the creation of electoral constituency boundaries ”. .

Fourteen commissioners – five Democrats, five Republicans, and four unaffiliated with a political party – were selected in the summer of 2020 to review California’s political maps, a process carried out once every ten years as new data from census become available. Work began months later than expected after the COVID-19 pandemic delayed census completion until August. This, in turn, has significantly reduced the time the commission has to revise the maps before the statewide elections in 2022.

Pedro Toledo, a member of the committee who is currently its chairman, said on Thursday that the legal petition was still under consideration.

“This Commission’s commitment to transparency has always gone far beyond what is required by law, and the public has always praised the Commission for its transparency and responsiveness,” Toledo said in a statement. sent by email.

The emergency petition filed on behalf of five California voters alleges that individuals and small groups of commissioners have met privately with groups seeking to influence the panel’s final actions. The plaintiffs have submitted documents obtained through official record requests that show notes taken during meetings with members of groups that advocate for Latin American communities, business interests and government reform efforts.

Similar concerns were raised in the spring, evidenced by a scathing letter to the commission from Charles Munger Jr., a prominent Republican donor who funded a significant portion of the campaign to enact electoral redistribution. in 2008 and 2010.

“The leaked notes show that the CRC commissioners were meeting with interested parties to discuss redistribution issues outside of CRC meetings and without making the meetings public,” the legal file said. “So there was no public notice and opportunity to participate, comment or know what was discussed, or even a discussion took place.”

Audience input is often cited as a key part of the redistribution, as communities urged panel members not to separate certain regions by drawing new lines of representation in Washington and Sacramento. Local support for a single Congressional District for most of San Joaquin County, for example, may have helped guide the committee’s decision to modify early sketches of the area before releasing draft maps on it. last month.

The plaintiffs in the case also asked the court to force the Redistribution Commission to release a private report analyzing historical patterns of racial voting in parts of California, an important element in crafting maps that comply with the law. federal voting rights. The report was prepared by consultants hired by the commission and, although frequently cited in recent meetings, has not been made public.

The congressional maps and legislation projects have been put online with information on each district’s voting age population by race and ethnicity. But the underlying reasons why some California communities would be divided in thinking of these voters – reasons presumably guided by studying past voting trends that divide along racial lines – remain unclear.

Perhaps the most ambitious request made to the California Supreme Court in Tuesday’s case is that the Constituency Redistribution Commission sack Strumwasser & Woocher, a Los Angeles-based law firm that has served as an advisor to executives of the state legislature. The cabinet’s website also cites his work for former President Obama’s campaigns in 2008 and 2012.

“The CRC not only violates its constitutionally mandated independence by sharing a lawyer in incurable conflict with the legislature,” the legal record argues, “it also uses its relationship with this company – on the advice of this company – to cover up the influential vote district analyzes of public supervision, in violation of the law creating the CRC.

Representatives from Strumwasser & Woocher signed a contract with state officials in May, an agreement that gives the company the task of writing the commission’s final report that will detail how the maps – covering 52 congressional districts, 120 legislative districts and four districts of the State Equalization Board – comply with federal voting rights law. The contract also included provisions relating to the need for lawyers assigned to the commission not to discuss work with anyone within the firm “engaged in lobbying activities involving constituency redistribution issues.”

If the state’s Supreme Court agrees with some or all of the claims in Tuesday’s legal file, judges could also be forced to adjust the timing of final certification of new California cards. The court rejected the constituency commission’s request this summer to extend the working period, after warning election officials that preparations for the June 2022 statewide primary would be jeopardized by a delay in writing news political maps.

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