The California Supreme Court set a second oral argument session this week scheduling the local case for arguments on June 27
If the legal rollercoaster that is Santa Monica’s California Voting Rights Act case were a literal theme park ride, this would be the point where the cars make a final ascent before the big drop.
The California Supreme Court set a second oral argument session this week scheduling the local case for arguments on June 27. The court usually sets a single summer session and while the case has been anticipated to reach the bench this year, it wasn’t part of the first session, and the announcement of a second session is unusual but not unprecedented.
The case, officially titled Pico Neighborhood Association et al. v. City of Santa Monica, was filed by the Pico Neighborhood Association and Maria Loya (wife of current Councilman Oscar de la Torre), alleging that the City’s at-large voting system discriminates against Latino voters and requesting a switch to district voting.
The Los Angeles Superior Court ruled against the City in 2018 but an appeal’s court overturned that decision in 2020 prompting the Plaintiffs to take the case to the Califorina Supreme Court.
Under the CVRA, plaintiffs must demonstrate that a group of people, known as a protected class, are unable to influence an election because they are overwhelmed by the majority and that the situation undermines their rights. Protected classes can include race, age, religion gender or sexual orientation.
Since there is no legislative definition of dilution, the Court of Appeal ruled that a dilution argument requires an increase in voter power through district elections to impact election results.
The plaintiffs have proposed splitting the city into districts that would create a Pico neighborhood with about 30% Latino compared to 14% citywide. However, this would not create a Latino majority, leading the appeal court to rule in favor of the City’s current at-large voting system.
In taking the case, the Supreme Court said its review would focus on establishing the benchmark for proving vote dilution under the CVRA and it upheld the Court of Appeal’s ruling that the plaintiffs failed to prove discrimination in violation of the equal protection clause.
The June hearing will be entirely remote but the public will have access to oral argument via live-streaming on the Supreme Court website (https://supreme.courts.ca.gov/) and the California Courts Newsroom (https://newsroom.courts.ca.gov/).