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Federal Judge Dismisses Voting Rights Claim Charging Racial Gerrymandering
By Jorge Casuso
February 7, 2019 -- A federal judge this week rejected a challenge to the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) filed by the former mayor of Poway, one of the cities that switched to district elections after being threatened with a lawsuit.
Santa Monica, which also received a letter from Malibu attorney Kevin Shenkman in 2015 saying it was violating the state law, is fighting the case in Superior Court, where the judge is expected to issue a final ruling against the City this month.
In his lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court against the State Attorney General and the City of Poway, former mayor Don Higginson claimed that the new districts amounted to gerrymandering that discriminated against him and other white voters.
"Higginson alleges that California legislators passed the CVRA to maximize minority voting strength by making it easier to sue local governments for vote dilution, 'based on the existence of racially polarized voting and nothing more,'" the court wrote in its rulig Monday.
In the 15-page ruling, Judge William Q. Hayes, who was appointed by former President George W. Bush, said Higginson failed to present evidence of racial gerrymandering.
"Higginson’s allegations," Hayes wrote, "do not support the inference that state actors -- those who passed the CVRA, or those who implemented it -- classified Higginson into a district because of his membership in a particular racial group.
Hayes also found that the plaintiff "does not allege facts to support the inference that the CVRA causes state action that classifies any voter according to that voter’s membership in a particular racial group."
Poway was one more than 30 cities across California that voluntarily switched to district elections after receiving a letter from Shenkman saying their at-large system dilutes the ability of Latinos to elect candidates of their choice.
Shenkman said the Federal Court ruling "rejects one of the principal arguments the City has been making."
"This is yet another judge rejecting the argument that Santa Monica has been making that the CVRA is unconstitutional," Shenkman said.
Both Higginson and the City, Shenkman said, argue the state law "is unconstitutional because it requires district lines to be drawn and that the decision to draw district lines is solely based on race."
The Project on Fair Representation, the conservative legal foundation that paid for the lawsuit, said they were “disappointed with this ruling.”
"We have every intention of seeking an appeal (in) the Ninth Circuit (Court of Appeals), and beyond if necessary,” Edward Blum, president of the nonprofit group, said in a statement Tuesday.
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