SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – California’s proposed redistricting lines have left the state’s high court facing what Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye called a “catch 22” at oral arguments on Tuesday.
Petitioners backed by the Republican party want to suspend the use of the new state Senate maps, which were drawn up by a 14-member independent commission, in the hopes that they will have enough signatures for a referendum on the November ballot.
“People want to vote on this,” said Charles Bell, attorney for Orange County Republican activist Julie Vandermost who claims that the commission drew districts that favor Democrats.
While Bell argued that the court has inherent jurisdiction to decide the case and must “adopt an interim remedy” for voters, California state attorney George Wa ters said the court must wait to see if the referendum “is likely to qualify” for the ballot before it has the authority to invalidate the maps and order them redrawn.
Justice Marvin Baxter pointed out, however, that it will be too late to draw new maps by that time, as Senate candidates must file for the June primary election next month. “It seems to me that argument leads to an impossible situation,” Baxter said.
The majority of Tuesday’s arguments were spent grappling with the issue of defining the phrase “likely to qualify.”
“The language ‘likely to qualify’ is amorphous,” Cantil-Sakauye said. “So what is the court to do?”
Justice Goodwin Liu did not have the answer. “Even if we brought the world’s greatest statisticians to this court as experts, we still wouldn’t have a definitive answer” as to whether the referendum is statistically likely to qualify for the ballot, Liu said.
Waters said the court is nevertheless limited to that language.
The seven-justice panel can temporarily allow the sate to use the commission’s maps or order it to use old Senate maps based on the 2000 census. It could also create temporary Senate districts out of commission-drawn Assembly districts.
Commission attorney James Brosnahan said the court should “make a finding of fact that it is likely to qualify,” and simply rule that the new Senate maps should be used this year. “The only sensible decision that continues political stability in this state is to use this commission’s districts.”
The court has 90 days to issue a ruling.