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California Supreme Court Denies 2 Redistricting Challenges

SACRAMENTO (CBS / AP) -- The California Supreme Court on Wednesday unanimously rejected two Republican challenges to the state's new electoral maps, dealing a blow to GOP efforts to halt new district boundaries that could diminish their political clout.

The state's high court rejected two petitions from Republicans challenging the validity of the state Senate and congressional redistricting maps recently adopted by the California Citizens Redistricting Commission. The Supreme Court also rejected their requests for an emergency stay that would have stopped use of the maps in 2012.

The commission had asked the court to reject the two lawsuits, arguing that opponents had failed to provide facts showing the commission's work was unreasonable. The court voted 7-0.

"The Supreme Court has struck a blow against politics as usual by upholding the fair and representative maps created by the Citizens Redistricting Commission," said Commissioner Stan Forbes, a decline-to-state voter from Yolo County who is the current rotating chairman of the commission.

Voters approved the citizen-led redistricting commission to independently create California's legislative and congressional districts in response to decades of gerrymandering by lawmakers that preserved districts for incumbents and the parties. In July, the 14-member panel approved final versions of the district maps for Congress, the state Assembly and Senate, and the state Board of Equalization, which administers sales and use taxes.

The maps were certified Aug. 15.

Republicans contend the Senate and congressional maps failed to comply with the Voting Rights Act and did not meet the constitutional criteria for drawing the maps in a transparent process and trying to keeping communities together. The congressional challenge was brought by former Central Valley Republican Rep. George Radanovich, while the Senate challenge was filed by Orange County resident Julie Vandermost.

"It's a hard issue for courts and evidently they were prepared to defer very substantially to what the citizens commission did," said Chuck Bell, an attorney representing Vandermost. Bell said he was disappointed that the court denied the petition without a hearing.

The California Republican Party is also backing a petition for a ballot referendum seeking to overturn the state Senate maps. The party has spent more than $1 million in recent weeks to try to collect 504,760 valid voter signatures for the referendum by mid-November. They have been helped by donors like George Joseph, owner of Mercury General Insurance Corp., who gave the state GOP party $1 million on Oct. 13, according to state records.

Should the party collect enough signatures to qualify a referendum, the party would be able to trigger a stay and the Senate lines would not be in place for candidates to run in the June primaries.

"We are resolute in gathering the signatures necessary so that voters can weigh in on this matter," California Republican Party Chairman Tom Del Beccaro said in a statement.

The new maps are expected to lead to more Democratic-leaning districts than the current lines as the state's demographics have changed. Democrats have a better chance of reaching the critical two-thirds majority in the Senate than under the old maps, which would bring the party one step closer to being able to approve tax increases without Republican support.

The maps could also give Democrats opportunities to boost their congressional representation. The 53-member delegation currently includes 19 GOP lawmakers.

There are nearly 500,000 more registered Democrats in California than a decade ago, 7.6 million in all, and 5.3 million registered Republicans, a drop from 5.4 million a decade ago. Partisanship in both major parties has pushed many more voters to the middle, and a fifth of all registered voters now say they are not affiliated with any political party.

Ironically, it was Republicans who supported the ballot initiatives that took the once-a-decade redistricting responsibility away from the Legislature. Voters created the independent citizens commission in 2008 to redraw legislative boundaries and expanded its authority to congressional districts in 2010.

The commission members—five Republicans, five Democrats and four independents—were selected in a random process overseen by the state auditor's office. At least nine commissioners had to support the new boundaries, including at least three each from Democrats, Republicans and independents.

Two of the commission's Republican members, Michael Ward of Anaheim and Jodie Filkins Webber of Norco, voted against the new congressional boundaries. The Assembly, state Senate and Board of Equalization districts were approved 13-1, with Ward dissenting each time.

Also Wednesday, California Common Cause, a good government advocacy group, filed complaints with the state Fair Political Practices Commission alleging the Republican Party and referendum organizers have not reported contributions in a timely manner.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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