Kern County Latinos’ Redistricting Fight Headed to Trial

FRESNO, Calif. (CN) – Disgruntled voters have not done enough to prove that a redistricting plan in California’s Kern County discriminates against Latinos, a federal judge ruled.

U.S. District Judge Dale Drozd rejected the voters’ motion for partial summary judgment Thursday, finding the evidence presented reveals a material dispute that cannot be resolved until trial.

Plaintiffs’ attorney Matthew Barragan told Courthouse News that he is not dissuaded by the judge’s order.

“It was possible in 2011, and it’s possible today, to draw a map to create a second district with a Latino majority,” Barragan said. “At trial in August, we will demonstrate that the Latino voters in northern Kern County have been split into two districts and had their votes diluted. A new map will allow them a voice in Kern County’s future and ensure fair, democratic elections.”

Lead plaintiff Oscar Luna sued Kern County and its Board of Supervisors in April 2016, claiming Latino voters are able to elect only one of five board members though just over 51 percent of the county’s population is Latino.

The only majority-Latino district, also Kern’s second smallest, is comprised of two small farming towns with predominant Latino populations and the outskirts of Bakersfield and Oildale. Voters there have consistently elected Latino supervisors for the past 20 years, but Latino candidates have not won in supervisorial contests in any other district during the same period, according to the original complaint.

To correct this, the plaintiffs submitted an example redistricting map to back up claims that the creation of a second Latino majority district is not only possible, but feasible.

Though the plaintiffs demonstrated that Latino voters would enjoy a numerical majority in the theoretical new district, they did not show the communities in that district are cohesive enough to be considered a single community of interest, according to Drozd’s 16-page ruling.

“[I]t is clear there is considerable evidence that the court must weigh and underlying factual disputes that it must decide before resolving the issues of compactness,” Drozd wrote.

“Accordingly, at this stage of the litigation, the court cannot conclude, as a matter of law, that plaintiffs have met their burden to satisfy” the conditions necessary to support their claims, he added.

Kern County and its seat Bakersfield sit at the southern end of California’s Central Valley. Its primary industries are oil and agriculture.

Marguerite Leoni with Nielsen Merksamer Parrinello of San Rafael represented the county. She did not immediately return emailed requests for comment sent Friday morning.


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