Another week, another blast at the Citizens Redistricting Commission from redistricting “expert” Tony Quinn. His latest article comes with the inflammatory headline, “Redistricting Commission tries to repeal One Person, One Vote.” You would think the Commission was trying to reinstate slavery or take away a woman’s right to vote. But no, all the Commission did was take a preliminary step to interpret an ambiguous area in redistricting law.
Here is the background. The U.S. Supreme Court has traditionally upheld state redistricting plans where the populations of districts are balanced within 10%. The Court added some additional complexity in the 2004 case Larios v. Cox saying such deviations needed to be justified by “legitimate state interests” and not “tainted by arbitrariness or discrimination” (more on this later).
A separate set of cases by the California State Supreme Court have found that under the state Constitution districts should be balanced within 2%. The hitch is that all those cases pre-date the passage of Propositions 11 and 20 which changed the California State Constitution. How will the Court interpret the population equality standards under the new rules? The Commission decided to give itself more flexibility and begin with the federal standard and then see how far they could tighten things down later.
Quinn once again sees grand conspiracy in that decision. This time he thinks the Commission is being duped into deliberately underpopulating Democratic areas and overpopulation Republican areas. Never mind that in the aforementioned Larios v. Cox case the Court specifically made clear that such an arbitrary of discriminatory scheme could not withstand constitutional scrutiny. Never mind that such an effort would be foolhardy on a Commission that requires supermajority votes of Democrats, Republican and Independents and includes more PhD’s, JD’s and MA’s than I can count (I think Californians can trust in their ability to add and see if their interests are not being served).
The reality is the Commission made clear in their debate exactly why they may need to have larger population deviations: To comply with the other criteria approved by California’s voters. That sure sounds like a legitimate state interest to me. For example, the Long Beach and Signal Hill (which is completely surrounded by the former) make up 102% of an Assembly District. Under a very strict deviation standard, Long Beach would have to be split. Under a more flexible standard the Commission may be able to avoid dividing the jurisdiction.
Are their legitimate reasons to keep Long Beach whole? Of course. Are their legitimate reasons to split Long Beach. Sure. North Long Beach is very different from east Long Beach. But it is a decision that voters empowered the Commission to make, not outside critics.