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U.S. Supreme Court Denies Petition to Hear Voting Rights Appeal

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By Jorge Casuso

May 26, 2020 -- The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday denied a petition to take up a case challenging the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) at the center of a districting lawsuit against Santa Monica.

Kevin Shenkman, who represents the Latino plaintiff's in the Santa Monica case, which the City appealed after a Superior Court found it had violated the CVRA, greeted the Supreme Court's quick denial of the petition.

"This is good for all of California," Shenkman said. "It is yet another confirmation that the CVRA is a constitutional exercise of the State's authority to ensure that minority votes are not diluted."

Shenkman, however, does not believe the Court's decision would have impacted the districting lawsuit against the City, which a California Appeals Court is expected to decide by July.

"Even if this case had gone forward," he said, "the Santa Monica case would have been long done before the Supreme Court decided."

The case the court declined to hear Tuesday was based on a challenge by Don Higginson, a voter in the City of Poway.

Like dozens of municipalities across California, the Poway City Council adopted district elections after receiving a letter from Shenkman asserting that the city's election system violated the CVRA.

Higginson sued the City of Poway and the attorney General of California in U.S. District Court, claiming the CVRA is illegal because it forces municipalities to change their electoral systems based exclusively on race.

His suit -- backed by major conservative groups -- argued that by forcing local governments to abandon at-large election systems when there is racially polarized voting, the CVRA makes race “not just the dominant factor but the only factor.”

The District Court dismissed the case, a decision upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court.

In a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court, Higginson's attorneys claimed that "race is the entire raison d’etre of the statutory scheme" and that "racial considerations are the sole trigger for the CVRA’s draconian remedies."

Santa Monica, one of the few cities to challenge Shenkman's assertion in court, has been monitoring Higginson's case as it awaits a ruling by the California Court of Appeal on whether its at-large election system discriminates against minority voters.

The Court accepted the City's request to expedite its ruling to assure a Council election is held in November 2020 as scheduled ("Appeals Court Grants City's Request to Expedite Voting Rights Case," May 7, 2019).

The Appeals Court will decide by July 10 whether the City must switch to district elections ("Santa Monica Council Votes to Appeal Voting Rights Ruling," February 21, 2019)..

The Council is scheduled to take up the case in closed session tonight.

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