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Supreme Court Sets Date for Oral Arguments in Voting Rights Case

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By Jorge Casuso

May 22, 2023 -- Two and a half years after agreeing to take up the closely watched Voting Rights lawsuit against the City, the Supreme Court on Monday set a date for oral arguments.

The California Courts website updated its information for the seven-year-old case that claims Santa Monica's at-large City Council election system discriminate against Latino voters.

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"To be argued on Tuesday, June 27, 2023, at 9:00 am," the schedule reads. The oral argument session "will be conducted with all justices and counsel participating remotely."

Within 90 days of oral arguments, the court files its written opinion, which becomes final 30 days after filing, unless there is a rehearing or the court modifies its decision.

In most cases, the Court decides far in advance of the deadline, according to legal experts. This virtually guarantees the case will be decided by the end of Summer, which falls on September 22.

Filed in June 2016 by local Latino activist Maria Loya and the Pico Neighborhood Association (PNA), the Voting Rights lawsuit has been slowly winding its way up the court system.

The Supreme Court is expected to focus on an Appellate Court ruling that found the plaintiffs' failed to prove the system "diluted" the voting power of Latinos ("Santa Monica's Election System Does Not Violate Latino's Voting Rights, Appeals Court Rules," July 9, 2020).

Carving out a District with 30 percent Latino voters, as mandated by Superior Court Judge Yvette M. Palazuelos, would make little difference, the court said ("Judge Orders Special District Elections for Council in Final Ruling," February 15, 2019).

City officials believe the Supreme Court will agree with the Appeals Court "that plaintiffs failed to establish vote dilution and, as a result, failed to prove" that Santa Monica's election system violates the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA).

Kevin Shenkman, the lead attorney for plaintiffs, believes the Court will overturn the Appellate Court's decision that "completely ignores the section (of the CVRA) that says you don't have to have a majority minority district."

The Supreme Court's decision to hear the case dealt a blow to Santa Monica, which prides itself on its liberal policies but has spent millions fighting a lawsuit backed by some of the nation and state's leading progressive organizations.

Among the parties filing amicus letters asking the Supreme Court to reverse the decision were the nation's two largest Latino organizations, three minority caucuses in the State legislature and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference ("Voting Rights Lawsuit Pits Progressive Leaders Against Santa Monica," September 23, 2020).

Efforts to drop the lawsuit and replace at-large Council elections with voting districts have so far failed to win a majority on the Council.

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