California political analyst Tony Quinn has been following redistricting matters long enough to remember when the Earl Warren court handed down its "one person, one vote" ruling half a century ago.
That ruling set population, not geography, as the standard for drawing political districts. But as minority and immigrant populations grew and settled mainly in large, urban areas, political leaders -- and the courts -- began making exceptions to drawing districts using population as the sole factor.
"There have been arguments for more than 30 years about how to draw minority districts," said Quinn, who consulted with California Republicans on redistricting matters in the 1970s and 1980s.
The goal was to avoid diluting minority voting power and “the Supreme Court has always sort of edged around the whole gerrymandered district issues” when it came to ensuring a minority candidate had a fair shot at winning an election in the face of racially polarized voting practices, Quinn said.
Political leaders on the right chafed at what they considered special considerations for minority or other disadvantaged groups, especially when the court allowed a redistricting formula based on citizens of voting age population. Areas with large numbers of children and immigrants, regardless of their legal status, benefited from the rules, at the expense of rural or suburban areas with older populations, they argued.
"This has bubbled under the surface as minority and immigrant populations grew,” Quinn said. "The court has never told us what it meant by 'one person, one vote.'
"On Tuesday, it said it is going to tell us."
The impact could be huge and the state -- along with its cities, counties, school districts and other local government jurisdictions -- could even be required to redraw all its political districts in time for the 2018 elections and well ahead of the next regularly scheduled redistricting in 2021, Quinn said.
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