The U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way Monday for a Jan. 22 election that is expected to place the first Latino on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors this century, and civil rights attorneys declared that they believe the historic redistricting case is now over.
The justices denied a request by the county to postpone the election in the new 1st District, carved by a federal judge who ruled that the supervisors had discriminated against the county’s 3 million Latinos in drawing district boundaries.
The high court did not say whether it will review the lower court rulings that led to the drafting of a new political map for the nation’s most populous county. The new map changes representation for many of the county’s 8.5 million residents and threatens to end a decade of conservative control of the board.
In Los Angeles, attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which joined the U.S. Justice Department in filing the voting rights suit against the county, said they believe the ruling will bring the two-year legal battle to an end.
“It is over,” declared ACLU lawyer Mark Rosenbaum. “It will forever be the legacy of this board that it stubbornly refused to budge from the wrong side of history.”
Antonia Hernandez, general counsel of MALDEF, said, “We believe that denying the county’s motion for a stay indicates that there are not enough votes on the Supreme Court to hear this case. . . . It is a happy day for the Latino community.”
County attorneys refused comment.
Typically, if the justices believe a case presents an issue worthy of being considered, they will issue a stay and block further action until they can rule on it. Court aides said that since the justices denied the county’s request for a stay, they will likely also deny the appeal next month when it goes before a regularly scheduled conference of the court.
Supervisor Deane Dana, a member of the board’s conservative majority, refused to concede defeat. “We still haven’t heard whether they are going to review the whole thing,” he said, acknowledging that the outlook for the county “certainly looks doubtful.” Dana said he is preparing to begin representing his new district.
The election was ordered last month by U.S. District Judge David V. Kenyon, who ruled in June that the supervisors had fragmented Latino neighborhoods to dilute their voting strength. Kenyon redrew district boundaries to create a new, predominantly Latino 1st District.
The court decision was applauded by the four major Latino candidates in the 1st District--state Sen. Charles M. Calderon; Sarah Flores, a former aide to Supervisor Pete Schabarum; Los Angeles City Councilwoman Gloria Molina and state Sen. Art Torres.
Flores, who finished first in the June primary in the old 1st District only to have the results thrown out by Kenyon, said she remains nervous about the same thing happening after the Jan. 22 election. “At least we have an election that is going to be completed, and that makes me happy,” she said.
Dana defended the county’s appeal, which has cost $6 million but could climb to $12 million if Kenyon awards attorney fees to the plaintiffs. A hearing will be held before Kenyon once the Supreme Court formally disposes of the case.
“You should not have one district that has 40% more voters than any other district,” Dana said. “That is wrong.”
Attorneys for the county argued that the Constitution’s “one-person, one-vote” requirement demands that districts be roughly equal in the number of voters, not just in the number of people living there.
Because only 42% of adult Latinos in Los Angeles County are citizens and eligible to vote, the newly created district will have relatively few voters. While the 3rd, 4th and 5th districts will have nearly 1.1 million citizens eligible to vote, the 1st District will have slightly more than 700,000 citizens and prospective voters.
Supervisor Mike Antonovich, in Spain planning for the county’s 1992 celebration of the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ landing, issued a statement: “I am disappointed. It is ironic that Sarah Flores, who won the June primary, was denied the opportunity to be elected supervisor, while a male incumbent (Supervisor Ed Edelman) who won the June primary in the 3rd District will be allowed to serve a full four-year term representing hundreds of thousands of people who never voted for him.”
Supervisor Pete Schabarum refused comment.
John Dunne, assistant attorney general for civil rights, was more cautious than the other plaintiffs in declaring that the case is over.
“We’re extremely gratified,” he said. “This is the longest and most expensive trial in the history of the civil rights division.”
Yolanda Garza, an Arcadia resident on whose behalf the redistricting lawsuit was filed, said, “I feel like I got a free spin on the lottery, and it went all the way up to cashing in.”