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Plaintiffs in Santa Monica Voting Rights Suit File Petition for Rehearing

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By Jorge Casuso

July 30, 2020 -- Plaintiffs in the voting rights lawsuit against the City have asked the California Appeals Court for a rehearing after it found that Santa Monica's at-large election system does not violate State law.

Filed last Friday, the petition contends that the Court's July 9 ruling "contains several critical and factual mistakes" ("Santa Monica's Election System Does Not Violate Latino's Voting Rights, Appeals Court Rules," July 9, 2020).

In its opinion, the three-judge panel found that Latinos, who make up 14 percent of the local electorate, lack the numbers to win in the 30 percent Latino District ordered by a a Superior Court judge in February 2019.

In the petition, plaintiffs' attorney Kevin Shenkman argues that the Court's decision "contravenes the plain language" of the California Voting Right's Act (CVRA), which does not require the creation of "a hypothetical majority minority district."

Unlike the Federal Voting Right's Act, Shenkman wrote, "the CVRA purposefully eliminates the requirement found under the federal Voting Rights Act that plaintiffs establish a hypothetical compact majority-minority district."

He noted that three other California appellate courts have upheld that conclusion.

The petition also challenges the Court's finding that "there was no dilution" of the Latino vote in Santa Monica's at-large system "because the result with one voting system is the same as the result with the other: no representation."

The Court, Shenkman wrote, failed to address expert testimony in the lower court trial that a district has “a very real possibility of producing a very different outcome than what the citywide elections have provided."

In a statement to the Lookout, City officials said the Appeals Court ruled correctly.

"We remain of the view that the Court of Appeal correctly determined that Plaintiffs failed to prove that the City’s at-large election system violated either the California Voting Rights Act or the Equal Protection Clause," the statement said..

"The evidence at trial demonstrated that the City’s at-large elections do not discriminate against Latino voters or diminish their voting power and have repeatedly elected candidates preferred by Latino voters."

Shenkman believes that it would be "highly unlikely" that the court would grant the plaintiffs' petition for a rehearing..

"They are typically denied summarily," he said. "They could rehear it. That would be highly unlikely but possible."

The Court also could add or delete from its initial opinion and issue a revised opinion, he said.

The arguments made in the petition, Shenkman said, will lay the groundwork for an appeal to the California Supreme Court, which must be submitted by August 8.

"This is a significant issue of public importance," Shenkman said. "Every other court has said you don't have to draw a majority minority district.

The Appeals Court, he said, "ignored" these rulings. "They didn't cite them."

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