California Supreme Court Reverses Opinion of Court of Appeal in Redistricting Case
However, City of Santa Monica may still not be forced to establish districts for its City Councilmen. Case Remanded to Cal. Court of Appeal
August 28, 2023
8/24: California's highest court has reversed the decision in Pico Neighborhood Association vs. City of Santa Monica. The City may (or may not) be required to implement a system of districts in local elections, in order to rectify alleged bias against Latinos and other minorities. The State Supreme Court ruled that the Cal. Court of Appeal applied the wrong standard under the California Voting Rights Act, or CVRA.
In 2018, the PNA and Maria Loya convinced a Los Angeles Superior Court judge that the City wide election of 7 City councilmen was inherently biased against Santa Monica's Latino population. Most of the Latino's in Santa Monica, a City of some 90,000 residents, live in the Pico Neighborhood, i.e., Zip Code 90404. Plaintiffs argued that district-based voting should be implemented to rectify this historic bias.
That 2018 decision was appealed to the Second District Court of Appeal in Downtown Los Angeles. They ruled against the PNA, holding that elections in Santa Monica could be Citywide under the CVRA. The PNA appealed that decision to the California State Supreme Court, which agreed last year to hear the case. Today, they ruled that the Court of Appeal applied the wrong standard under the CVRA.
The Supreme Court stated that, "Because the Court of Appeal did not evaluate the dilution element of the CVRA under this standard, we reverse the judgment and remand the matter to the Court of Appeal for it to reconsider in the first instance the CVRA claim presented here." So this is a reversal, without apparently requiring the Cal. Court of Appeal to uphold or to reverse the decision of the original Superior Court ruling in favor of PNA. The decision may be found here: https://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/documents/S263972.PDF
Today's ruling is not good news for those who like the current system. But it is not a final decision either, as the matter was remanded to the Court of Appeal.
The City may appeal this decision to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeal or to the US Supreme Court. Neither of them are required to hear the case, but they could decide to hear it. It is more probable that the parties will brief the matter again before the Cal. Court of Appeal.
A longer quote from the Cal. Supreme Court: "Accordingly, what is required to establish "dilution" of a protected class's "ability . . . to elect candidates of its choice" (Elec. Code, §14027) is proof that, under some lawful alternative electoral system, the protected class would have the potential, on its own or with the help of crossover voters, to elect its preferred candidate. The lawful alternative electoral system may include, but is not limited to, single-member district elections.
"A court presented with a dilution claim should undertake a searching evaluation of the totality of the facts and circumstances (see, e.g., Elec. Code, § 14028, subd. (e)), including the characteristics of the specific locality, its electoral history, and " 'an intensely local appraisal of the design and impact' of the contested electoral mechanisms" as well as the design and impact of the potential alternative electoral system. (Gingles, supra, 478 U.S. at p. 79; see Allen v. Milligan (2023) ___ U.S. ___, ___ [216 L.Ed.2d 60, 75] (Milligan).) In predicting how many candidates are likely to run and what percentage may be necessary to win, courts may also consider the experiences of other similar jurisdictions that use alternative electoral systems. (Cf. Gingles, at p. 56.)"