In yet another case on the Supreme Court’s pandemic docket, California’s Legislature wants the court to order a four-month delay of the deadline for the state Redistricting Commission to submit Congressional, state legislative, and Board of Equalization district maps for the 2022 election. According to the emergency original writ petition in Legislature of the State of California v. Padilla, the extension is necessary because the federal Census Bureau has asked Congress for the same amount of extra time to deliver to California and other states the data needed to draw the maps.
So far, the Legislature’s request in quite popular. The court asked the respondent Secretary of State to submit a preliminary opposition, but he instead filed a “response” joining the petition’s request for relief. The Commission itself filed a similar document, and former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, California Common Cause, and the League of Women Voters of California submitted an amici curiae letter supporting the petition.
A possible impediment to the court granting the petition is that the Legislature could itself takes steps to change the deadline. But that would involve putting a constitutional amendment on this November’s ballot, a process with a July 26 deadline. The timing for that is tight, the Legislature says, with the Assembly and Senate scheduled to be in recess from June 19 and July 2, respectively, until July 13.
The Commission’s constitutional deadline for submitting new district maps isn’t until August 15 of next year, but the Legislature is asking for urgent court action because of the much shorter timeline for amending the constitution.
An incentive for the court to act now is that the court might otherwise be forced to later take charge of the redistricting process. If the Commission doesn’t approve new maps on time, the state constitution’s article XXI, section 2(j), requires the court to appoint special masters to draw maps and it then must approve the masters’ maps.
There is also some uncertainty with this petition. First, Congress hasn’t yet extended the Census Bureau’s time. Second, a four-month extension might not be the final word; in April, the president said he thinks “120 days isn’t nearly enough.”