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This past Wednesday, the California Supreme Court rejected legal challenges to the state's new Senate and congressional maps. The two separate lawsuits were rejected by identical 7-0 votes. The court's decision ended the first hurdle to implementing boundary lines that were drawn this year, for the first time, by a 14-member citizens commission created by voter passage of Proposition 11 in 2008.
The coalition is now asking the federal government to reject the lines as a dilution of Latino voting power. The Fairness & Accountability in Redistricting - leaders of a separate referendum drive against the state Senate maps -- has filed arguments with the U.S. Department of Justice challenging the legality of the new boundary lines.
Republican officials have expressed concern since their adoption in August that the new Senate districts favor Democrats and could give that party a two-thirds majority in the upper house. The federal government is required to monitor redistricting in four California counties -- Yuba, Monterey, Kings and Merced -- to ensure that minority voting power be preserved.
The 11-page challenge filed notes that redistricting lowered from six to five the number of Senate districts in which Latinos comprise 50 percent or more of the voting age population.
The complaint focuses on Senate districts that were drawn in Monterey and Merced counties by California's redistricting commission. The suit alleges that the Citizen’s Commissioner should have created a Senate district that helped preserve Latino voting power by joining the East San Jose area in Santa Clara County with the Salinas area in Monterey County. Latinos would have comprised nearly 39 percent of the voting age population in such a district.
The commission also could have drawn lines in a way that paired Merced County with Central Valley communities in forming a Senate district with a Latino voting-age population of more than 60 percent.
The second prong of opponents' fight against the Senate maps involves gathering voter signatures in hopes of letting voters decide the fate of the 53 new districts in balloting next year. To qualify for the ballot, the campaign must gather 504,760 valid voter signatures by November 14, 2011. Officials say they have collected 500,000 signatures and have a goal of 700,000. The referendum drive is being funded largely by the California Republican Party and a handful of its current or former state senators.