December 5, 2011

Redistricting back before Supreme Court

If you mention “redistricting” and “Supreme Court” to election law insiders, they will probably think only of the Texas dispute now before the United States Supreme Court. But California’s Supreme Court is now back in the redistricting business itself.

A little over five weeks after the court summarily denied writ petitions challenging legislative district maps drawn by the new California Citizens Redistricting Commission, a new writ petition was filed Friday regarding the State Senate map.

As we’ve noted, recent amendments to the California Constitution provide that if a map certified by the Commission is “subject to a referendum measure that is likely to qualify,” any registered voter can petition the Supreme Court “to seek relief . . . and stay the timely implementation of the map.” (If a referendum succeeds in disapproving 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.”)

Because referendum signatures have been submitted to California’s Secretary of State, the writ petition in Vandermost v. Bowen asks for a stay, but it’s not clear that the referendum is “likely to qualify.” The Sacramento Bee reports that, although about 711,000 referendum signatures have been submitted and 504,760 signatures are required to qualify, the Commission’s chair says that, “[t]ypically, about 30 percent of a referendum drive’s signatures are disqualified for one reason or another, which would leave [the referendum] a little short of the required” number.

The Constitution requires the Supreme Court to “give priority to ruling” on the writ petition, and that seems to be exactly what the court is doing. On Friday, the day the writ petition was filed, the court requested preliminary opposition to be filed by tomorrow and gave petitioner until Wednesday to file a reply.

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