Blacks Seek Role With Latinos in Redistricting Case
Three of Los Angeles County’s leading black organizations entered the legal battle Monday over redrawing supervisorial district lines, saying that unless their interests are represented, black voters could suffer a loss of political influence.
The local chapters of the NAACP, the Urban League and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference filed suit to intervene in the court cases filed against the county last year by the U.S. Justice Department and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
The federal government, MALDEF and the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California sued county officials last fall contending that supervisors discriminated against Latinos when they redrew supervisorial district lines after the 1980 census.
Objective Made Clear
But in seeking to join the lawsuits, representatives of the black organizations made it clear Monday that while Latinos may have been discriminated against, the solution should not come at the expense of black voters. They said that district lines to help Latinos should not be redrawn by carving up districts where blacks are concentrated.
To realign district lines with only Latino interests in mind “may adversely affect the participation of black voters in the electoral process” and dilute blacks’ political effectiveness, the lawsuit said.
The suit “demonstrates the unanimous feeling among representatives of the black community that we need to be at the bargaining table if and when the Los Angeles County supervisorial district lines are redrawn,” said Theodore M. Shaw, a lead attorney for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
While Shaw stressed that the legal action was not an attack on the lawsuits filed by MALDEF and the Justice Department, he said that the new class-action lawsuit was needed to protect black voters.
“This is not an instance where there is tension or friction (between blacks and Latinos),” Shaw told a news conference, “and we need to be very clear on that. We’re simply coordinating our efforts and representing our respective interests.”
Although spokesmen for black and Latino organizations were careful Monday to display a united front, the new lawsuit primarily expresses black concerns.
No black--or Latino--has ever been elected to the board. But Supervisor Kenneth Hahn’s 2nd Supervisorial District is largely black and it is widely believed that his eventual successor will be black.
However, 30% of the residents in Hahn’s South-Central district are also Latinos, and there are fears in the black community that the board, which is ruled by conservative Republican supervisors, could decide to create a new Latino district by simply carving up the districts of its two liberal Democrats, Hahn and Supervisor Ed Edelman.
The Rev. James Lawson Jr., president of the SCLC, called Latinos and blacks “allies” in the reapportionment fight but added: “We have five supervisors, who are lily white. . . . We want to see the best possible democratic process working at a local level, and that means not only fair Latino but also black representation.”
John Mack, president of the Los Angeles Urban League, said Monday that it is imperative for blacks to be involved in the reapportionment case for their own interests and to add pressure on the county to settle the case.
“I think it will be harder for them to ignore two large groups,” Mack said.
County officials have denied the discrimination charges, and a trial is tentatively scheduled to begin before U.S. District Judge David V. Kenyon this summer. But county officials remain adamant that a new Latino district cannot be drawn that would consist of a majority of voting-age Latinos who are citizens.
“Our position is that we have made a substantial effort to formulate such a district, and we have not been able to do that,” said Senior Assistant County Counsel Mary F. Wawro. “We don’t think it can be done.”
The uncertainties of citizenship and whether citizenship is relevant in determining a Latino district are key issues in the court case. Black representatives said Monday that the county has yet to prove its case.
Richard Fajardo, the lead counsel for MALDEF, also disputed the county’s contention and added that he welcomes the lawsuit by black organizations as “an important aspect of the case” that has not been addressed.
Mark Weaver, a spokesman for the Justice Department in Washington, said federal officials share that view.
“We filed this suit to make sure that all groups are equal participants in the electoral process,” he said. “We think the Hispanics in particular are the most flagrant example of a group that has been locked out because of the redistricting, but that does not mean we’re only seeking to assist Hispanics. We welcome anyone who wants to join us in more fairly redistricting Los Angeles County.”