March 02, 2017
LAWT News Service
The County of Los Angeles filed suit Monday against the State of California seeking to invalidate a new law that discriminates against independent voters, strips local control from local voters concerning the process of re-drawing the county’s supervisorial districts, and makes that process much more political, not less.
The complaint, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, seeks an order declaring that the law created by State Senate Bill 958 last year is unconstitutional, and seeks a permanent injunction barring its implementation.
The county contends that the law is patently unworkable and unconstitutional. It is being unfairly and unnecessarily forced on the residents of Los Angeles County and over the objections of their duly elected representatives.
Specifically, the new law violates two sections of the State Constitution, one that prohibits the legislature from imposing special laws on particular counties (Article IV, Section 16); the other requires county offices to be nonpartisan (Article II, Section 6). SB 958 also contradicts the voter-approved County Charter, which assigns the job of re-districting to the Board of Supervisors.
The new law creates a commission whose membership is based on political party registration, which discriminates against independent voters (those who register to vote with no party preference). These voters make up 25% of the registered voters in the County – more than 1 million in total. The new 14-member Citizen Redistricting Committee is to be responsible for creating County Supervisor district boundaries after each U.S. Census every 10 years.
Based on current registration numbers, 70% of the commission members would be Democrats, 25% Republicans, and 5% would be from other, smaller political parties. Voters who registered without a party preference – the fastest-growing segment of newly registered voters – will not be given equal consideration.
According to the suit, this new law imposes on the citizens of Los Angeles County an experimental system to select a citizen redistricting commission based on luck and chance, not proper public deliberation. County voters cannot change the law if they are dissatisfied.
By contrast, the last apportionment, which was based on the 2010 Census, included extensive input from County voters and was never challenged in court.
Supporters of SB 958 pushed the measure through the state Legislature in Sacramento without holding any meetings in Los Angeles County and over the objection of County Supervisors. Also opposed to the measure were the California State Association of Counties, the Urban Counties of California, the County of Riverside, Common Cause and the Los Angeles Times editorial board.
Backers of the measure say it was modeled after Prop. 11, narrowly approved by California voters in 2008, which established a statewide citizens redistricting commission for state offices. But the Los Angeles County lawsuit illustrates stark differences between Prop. 11 and SB 958 in asking the courts to invalidate the new law as discriminatory, unconstitutional and fundamentally unfair.