Acting with unusual speed and using an exceptional procedure in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Supreme Court today issued an opinion extending by four months constitutional and statutory deadlines for the state Citizens Redistricting Commission to submit Congressional, state legislative, and Board of Equalization district maps for the 2022 election.
The extension is necessary, the court said, because “the usual order of redistricting operations has been upended by the COVID-19 pandemic.” The pandemic has caused a likely delay in producing the federal Census data on which the maps are based. The court explained that redrawing district lines based on the data “ensure[s] compliance with the constitutional one-person, one-vote rule.”
Instead of August 15, 2021 (Cal. Const., art. XXI, sec. 2(g)), the Commission will now have until at least December 15 to approve and certify final maps. The court also extends from July 1 (Gov. Code section 8253(a)(7)) to at least November 1 the date for releasing proposed maps for public comment. Anticipating possible additional Census delays because of the pandemic’s “dynamic nature,” the court provides that the new deadlines can be “further extended by the length of any additional delay in release of the federal census data beyond four months.”
Even though the constitutional and statutory deadlines provide no exceptions, the opinion states that, “given the extraordinary and unforeseen circumstances” rendering compliance impossible, it is appropriate for the court to exercise its authority to “reform [the] deadlines to effectuate the enactors’ clearly articulated policy judgments when it is feasible to do so and when the enacting body clearly would have preferred reformation to invalidation.”
The court stresses that the “adjustments to the relevant deadlines are limited to this redistricting cycle and these extraordinary circumstances.”
The court’s unanimous 20-page opinion by Justice Leondra Kruger grants a writ petition filed by the Legislature in early June (Legislature of the State of California v. Padilla), to which there was no opposition. In almost any other case, the court in such a short time would not have even decided whether it would hear the matter, let alone issued a full opinion. But the justices invoked the expedited Palma procedure, which is extraordinary for the court. (See here.) The procedure allowed the justices to decide the case without an oral argument, a circumstance for the court that is likely unprecedented in modern times. The court also made its opinion final immediately, another rarely used power (here and here).