Hispanic group files lawsuit to challenge new districts

Associated Press
Tuesday October 02, 2001

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A Hispanic group filed a federal lawsuit Monday charging that congressional and state Senate redistricting plans approved by California lawmakers dilute the power of Hispanic voters. 

“It is unacceptable and illegal to jeopardize the voting rights of historically disenfranchised minority voters,” said Antonia Hernandez, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. 

“The district lines compromised the basic principles of community and the electoral process and are illegal.” 

A spokesman for Gov. Gray Davis, Roger Salazar, defended the plans. 

“No plan is perfect and not everybody is going to be happy. But from our perspective the maps produced this year are fair and balanced,” he said, noting that Hispanic lawmakers helped draft the plans and most of them voted for the new districts. 

State Sen. Don Perata, the chairman of the Senate elections committee, said the plans would probably result in the election of more Hispanics to the Legislature and Congress. 

“The claim of discrimination — especially intentional discrimination — is ridiculous,” the Oakland Democrat said. “These are fair plans in which minority populations fare very well....” 

The suit is the second to challenge some of the new legislative and congressional districts since Davis signed bills last week implementing the plans. 

A group of Stockton-area officials filed a suit in Sacramento County Superior Court on Friday contending the plans violated the state constitution by dividing San Joaquin County among four Assembly districts, two Senate and two congressional districts. 

Lawmakers are required to draw new districts every 10 years to reflect population changes revealed by the census. 

MALDEF, a nonprofit group that promotes Hispanic rights, said the Senate and congressional plans violate the U.S. Constitution and federal Voting Rights Act by: 

— Putting heavily Hispanic neighborhoods in the western San Fernando Valley into two congressional districts to prevent voters from electing a Hispanic candidate. Critics have suggested that political consultant Michael Berman, the chief architect of the congressional plan, drew the districts in that way to save his brother, Rep. Howard Berman, D-North Hollywood, from a primary election challenge by a strong Hispanic candidate. 

— Leaving four Hispanic neighborhoods in San Diego — Barrio Logan, Logan Heights, Golden Hills and City Heights — out of the new heavily Hispanic 51st Congressional District to save another incumbent, Rep. Bob Filner, D-San Diego. 

— Packing Hispanic voters into a Norwalk-area state Senate district in which Hispanics make up more than 75 percent of the population instead of creating two districts with Hispanic majorities. 

The suit asks the court to bar the state from using the new districts and to impose its own redistricting plans if state lawmakers and the governor fail to adopt new plans in time for next year’s elections. 

Assembly Speaker Robert Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, like Davis a defendant in the MALDEF suit, said he was pleased the lawsuit did not challenge the new Assembly districts. His statement didn’t mention the Senate and congressional districts were also approved by his house.