August 8, 2011
The newly formed California Citizens Redistricting Commission — created in the Voters FIRST Act by Proposition 11 in 2008 — is expected to certify its maps of new lines for California’s Congressional, state legislative, and state Board of Equalization districts next week. If it does, the California Supreme Court will then probably get involved, and on an expedited basis. If it doesn’t, Supreme Court involvement is a certainty.
Under article XXI, section 2(j), of the State constitution, if the Commission does not approve a map, “the Secretary of State shall immediately petition the California Supreme Court for an order directing the appointment of special masters to adjust the boundary lines of that map.” The court must appoint masters also if a map is disapproved by voter referendum. The Supreme Court has appointed masters in past redistricting years when the Legislature and the Governor were unable to agree on how to re-draw the lines.
If the Commission does approve the maps, section 3(b) gives “[a]ny registered voter in this state” standing to challenge a map by filing a writ petition within 45 days. Also, if a map is “subject to a referendum measure that is likely to qualify,” any registered voter can petition the court “to seek relief . . . and stay the timely implementation of the map.” That same provision vests the Supreme Court with “original and exclusive jurisdiction” of such challenges and directs the court to “give priority to ruling on a petition.”
Commentators are predicting lawsuits and/or referenda (hat tip: UC Irvine Law School Professor Rick Hasen’s Election Law Blog), so the chances are high for imminent Supreme Court involvement in a very political process.
[Note: A good resource for information on the redistricting process in California and nationally is Loyola Law School Professor Justin Levitt's All About Redistricting blog.]