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Appeals Court Rejects Petition to Rehear Voting Rights Lawsuit

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By Jorge Casuso

August 6, 2020 -- The voting rights lawsuit against the City of Santa Monica is headed to the California Supreme Court after an Appeals Court on Wednesday rejected the plaintiffs' petition to rehear the case.

Attorney Kevin Shenkman, who represents Latina activist Maria Loya and the Pico Neighborhood Association (PNA), said he plans to ask the State's highest court "on or about August 18" to review the Appeals Court decision.

The Court ruled on July 9 that Santa Monica's at-large election system does not violate the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) ("Santa Monica's Election System Does Not Violate Latino's Voting Rights, Appeals Court Rules," July 9, 2020).

"There is no change in the judgment," the three-judge panel wrote in rejecting the petition for a rehearing. "The petition for rehearing is denied."

The plaintiffs have ten days after the decision becomes final August 8 to request a hearing before the State Supreme Court.

In rejecting the petition for a rehearing, the Appeals Court made a minor change to its 50-page decision.

The decision focused on the plaintiffs' failure to prove that Santa Monica's at-large election system "diluted" the voting power of Latinos, who make up 14 percent of the local electorate.

The court deleted the first paragraph on page 32 and replaced it with the following sentences:

"First, Pico argued the Act contains no dilution element at all. In its 95-page brief, Pico devoted only one sentence to this argument. An amicus brief also argued this point."

The Court added, "At oral argument, however, Pico 'for purposes of this argument' abandoned this argument, and for good reason."

In its decision, the court found that carving out a district with 30 percent Latino voters, as mandated by the lower court, would make little difference in electing a Latino candidate.

"Assuming race-based voting, 30 percent is not enough to win a majority and to elect someone to the City Council, even in a district system," the Court wrote.

Shenkman contends the court's decision "completely ignores the section (of the CVRA) that says you don't have to have a majority minority district."

He argued that the law does not set a threshold and that Loya would have won a Council seat in the Pico neighborhood in 2004 if there had been district elections.

Requests for a rehearing are "almost never granted," Shenkman said.

But the arguments made in the petition lay the groundwork for an appeal to the Supreme Court, he added.

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