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There is a game changing decision hanging in the balance on the state redistricting saga.
A quick recap: The state redistricting commission released maps for Senate, Assembly and Congressional districts last August. Republicans filed suit to block the Senate maps, only to be rebuffed by the state Supreme Court. A Republican support group then launched a signature drive to qualify referendum in order to block implementation of the new Senate districts. The group, called Fairness and Accountability in Redistricting (FAIR), recently filed a petition asking the court to reconsider given the fact that the group has submitted more than 711,000 signatures in order to qualify the referendum for the November general election. FAIR asked the Supreme Court to prepare for the referendum qualifying for the ballot by directing the Secretary of State to use the previous Senate district maps or combining two new Assembly districts for every Senate seat for the 2012 election. The petition also asks for a special master on redistricting.
If the referendum to qualifies for the ballot the Supreme Court would be forced to decide which maps to use for 20 Senate elections this year – the commission's versions, the previous districts or a set of court-devised ones. Complicating the issue further, the commission's maps also are under scrutiny of the U.S. Justice Department for compliance with the Voting Rights Act, with a decision due by next week unless the department seeks more time.
As reported last week, signatures submitted in support of the referendum' did not survive a random sample test of their validity. As a result a full hand count of the signature has been ordered which is expected to take about six weeks to complete.
In arguments before the State Supreme Court this last week lawyers for Secretary of State Bowen and the citizens commission argued that if the court needs to act because the referendum is likely to qualify, it should use the commission's maps. Republican attorney Charles Bell countered that the old districts "with modification" could be used in 2012, or the court could create new Senate maps by combining the commission's 80 Assembly districts into 40 Senate districts. From the judges questioning of the parties it appears that the court expects the referendum to qualify and are poised to act but are still in a quandary as to a solution.
Meanwhile, it's still uncertain whether the Justice Department will give its approval to the commission's Senate maps, which have been criticized for diminishing Latinos' chances of electing senators.
The Supreme Court is expected to decide whether they will be taking action next week.