De­ci­sion a vic­tory for state GOP

Rul­ing spares the GOP from hav­ing dis­tricts drawn by heav­ily Demo­cratic Leg­is­la­ture.

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - CATH­LEEN DECKER cath­leen.decker@latimes.com Twit­ter: @ cath­leen­decker

Repub­li­cans avoided hav­ing Demo­cratic law­mak­ers carve into their al­ready pal­try num­ber of elected off icials.

Like so many po­lit­i­cal events, the U. S. Supreme Court de­ci­sion Mon­day that up­held the right of in­de­pen­dent citizen com­mis­sions to draw dis­trict lines inspired a dif­fer­ent re­ac­tion in Cal­i­for­nia than else­where in the na­tion.

Here, it was a vic­tory for Repub­li­cans, who were spared the al­ter­na­tive of hav­ing the strongly Demo­cratic Leg­is­la­ture draw lines that would have carved into the GOP’s al­ready pal­try num­ber of elected of­fi­cials. Else­where, it was a de­feat for Repub­li­cans, who con­trol leg­is­la­tures in places such as Ari­zona, where the case orig­i­nated, and wanted the restora­tion of the Leg­is­la­ture’s power to draw lines that would be ben­e­fi­cial to their party.

“In Ari­zona, the Repub­li­cans are up­set to­day, but in Cal­i­for­nia the Democrats might be a lit­tle less happy than they might have been oth­er­wise,” said Jes­sica A. Levin­son, clin­i­cal pro­fes­sor of law at Loy­ola Law School, who spe­cial­izes in elec­tion law. “Redistricting can some­times make for strange bed­fel­lows.”

The par­ti­san ben­e­fits were not ter­ri­bly clear in the public re­ac­tions of elected of­fi­cials, many of whom skipped over the po­lit­i­cal fall­out to em­pha­size their sup­port for the Mom and ap­ple pie no­tion of citizen in­volve­ment, en­shrined by two bal­lot mea­sures.

“To­day’s de­ci­sion by the na­tion’s high­est court sup­port­ing redistricting com­mis­sions is a vic­tory for Cal­i­for­nia’s open and pub­licly ac­ces­si­ble redistricting process,” state Se­nate Pres­i­dent Pro Tem Kevin de León of Los An­ge­les and Assem­bly Speaker Toni G. Atkins of San Diego, both Democrats, said in a state­ment. “We hope other states will fol­low suit now that the court has re­moved any ques­tion about its con­sti­tu­tion­al­ity.”

“Cal­i­for­nia vot­ers over­whelm­ingly ap­proved Propo­si­tions 11 and 20 to take the redistricting process out of the hands of elected of­fi­cials and give it to an in­de­pen­dent body,” Se­nate GOP leader Robert Huff of San Di­mas said in his state­ment. “The court’s de­ci­sion will en­sure that Cal­i­for­ni­ans will con­tinue to have an open and fair redistricting process.”

The mea­sured na­ture of the re­sponses re­flected the lim­ited ef­fect of the Ari­zona case on Cal­i­for­nia — at most a few seats would have been af­fected had the court gone the other way. But wait­ing in the wings is a far more con­se­quen­tial case that will be heard by the high court next year.

That case, Even­wel vs. Ab­bott, will de­ter­mine whether dis­trict lines are drawn to ac­com­mo­date a num­ber of res­i­dents or a num­ber of el­i­gi­ble vot­ers. The lat­ter cat­e­gory would ex­clude nonci­t­i­zens and the young. Many of Cal­i­for­nia’s most pow­er­ful Democrats rep­re­sent dis­tricts whose out­lines would change dra­mat­i­cally if the court up­ended tra­di­tion in the Texas case.

A court de­ci­sion to change the defin­ing num­ber from res­i­dents to those el­i­gi­ble to vote “would have a mas­sive im­pact on na­tional redistricting and specif­i­cally on the abil­ity to cre­ate dis­tricts that em­power mi­nor­ity groups — Lati­nos, Asians, even African Amer­i­cans,” said Paul Mitchell, a Cal­i­for­nia redistricting ex­pert.

If ap­plied to con­gres­sional elec­tions, Mitchell said, a Texas de­ci­sion could force the com­bin­ing of ur­ban dis­tricts as they now ex­ist in places such as Metropoli­tan Los An­ge­les and the Bay Area and, apart from Cal­i­for­nia, in states such as Texas, Florida and New York. ( The same would be true at the leg­isla­tive level, which is specif­i­cally in­cluded in the case.)

The re­sult, he said, would be “a ma­jor shift in vot­ing power” of Lati­nos and African Amer­i­cans. An anal­y­sis by Mitchell of the na­tion’s con­gres­sional dis­tricts demon­strated how dra­matic the ef­fect would be of a Texas rul­ing cit­ing the need for el­i­gi­ble vot­ers.

Rep. Lu­cille Roy­balAl­lard’s East­side Los An­ge­les dis­trict, for ex­am­ple, would sud­denly need an inf lux of nearly 150,000 el­i­gi­ble vot­ers, as the dis­trict would be about half the size it needs to be if those not el­i­gi­ble to vote are brushed aside. Nearby dis­tricts are in a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion, and thus can­di­dates for com­bin- ing. ( One com­pli­ca­tion of the Texas case is that it’s not clear ex­actly what would con­sti­tute an el­i­gi­ble voter; the case refers only to “vot­ers or po­ten­tial vot­ers” com­pared to the pop­u­la­tion at large.)

The win­ners in the Ari­zona case an­nounced Mon­day were Repub­li­cans rep­re­sent­ing dis­tricts for which the in­de­pen­dent com­mis­sion drew less par­ti­san lines than the Demo­cratic Leg­is­la­ture oth­er­wise would have.

Among mem­bers of Congress, they in­cluded Reps. David Val­adao of Han­ford, Jeff Den­ham of Tur­lock and Steve Knight of Palm­dale. All three al­ready are on the GOP’s en­dan­gered in­cum­bents list for 2016.

Democrats also lost an op­por­tu­nity to strengthen some of their weak­est in­cum­bents, in­clud­ing Rep. Ami Bera of Elk Grove and Scott Peters of San Diego. Both sur­vived strong chal­lenges in 2014.

Peters’ dis­trict has a one- point Repub­li­can reg­is­tra­tion edge, and Bera’s a two- point Demo­cratic ad­van­tage. Each has a sub­stan­tial num­ber of non­par­ti­san vot­ers as well.

Be­fore the in­de­pen­dent com­mis­sion was cre­ated, those seats would have been re­drawn by Democrats in the Leg­is­la­ture to ben­e­fit their party in­cum­bents. Op­po­si­tion to such ger­ry­man­der­ing was the chief ar­gu­ment of the two bal­lot mea­sures to put con­trol in the hands of the com­mis­sion — one in 2008, which con­trolled leg­isla­tive line­draw­ing, and a sec­ond in 2010 that ex­tended its power to con­gres­sional lines.

“The in­de­pen­dent redistricting com­mis­sions typ­i­cally do make life and elec­tions harder for in­cum­bents,” Levin­son said. “The losers to­day are self­in­ter­ested in­cum­bents.”

‘ Redistricting can some­times make for strange bed­fel­lows.’

— Jes­sica A. Levin­son clin­i­cal pro­fes­sor of law at Loy­ola Law School and spe­cial­ist on elec­tion law

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