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Why the California Redistricting Commission Has Prevailed in the Courts

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There were four challenges in which partisans sought to have the California Redistricting Commission's congressional and legislative maps overturned. In four cases the courts, and in one case the U.S. Department of Justice, supported the maps drawn by the commission. Why?
Among many reasons is the fact that the commission, to the best of its ability, met the following criteria written in California's Constitution. Here are the seven criteria in their priority order and the manner in which the commission met them:

1. Districts must be of equal population to comply with the U.S. Constitution.

53 Congressional Districts Ideal Population Count 702,905

  • 20 achieved ideal population of 702,905
  • 12 achieved population count of 702,906
  • 21 achieved population count of 702, 904

80 Assembly Districts Ideal Population Count 465,674

  • Average Deviation from Ideal for all districts was within .506 percent

40 Senate Districts Ideal Population Count 931,349

  • Average Deviation from Ideal for all districts was within .449 percent

10 Board of Equalization Districts Ideal Population Count 9,313,489

  • Average Deviation from Ideal for all districts was within .630 percent

2. Districts must comply with the Voting Rights Act to ensure that minorities have an equal opportunity to elect representatives of their choice.

The U. S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division stated:

This refers to the 2011 redistricting plans for the California congressional delegation, Senate, Assembly and Board of Equalization for the State of California, submitted to the Attorney General pursuant to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965m 42 U.S. C. 1973c. We received your submission on November 16, 2011; additional information was received through December 30, 2011.

The Attorney General does not interpose any objection to the specified changes.

3. Districts must be contiguous so that all parts of the district are connected to each other.

All the commission's districts are geographically contiguous* and comply with the Voters First Act.

*Except for islands and peninsulas. Where bridges were nearby those areas were connected to the closest land mass. Ferry boat lanes were also taken into consideration.

4. Districts must respect the boundaries of cities, counties, neighborhoods, and communities of interest, and minimize their division, to the extent possible.

County Splits (58 Counties)

In the Assembly Map 10 splits
In the Senate Map 11 splits
In the Board of Equalization Map 1 split
In the Congressional Map 11 splits

City Splits (480 Cities)

In the Assembly Map 35 splits
In the Senate Map 20 splits
In the Board of Equalization Map 2 splits
In the Congressional Map 41 splits

Splits were only recorded for cities that were smaller than the district in which they were located.

5. Districts should be geographically compact, that is, have a fairly regular shape.

The commission was required to respect certain geographic criteria whenever possible: to draw compact districts with simple shapes; to avoid splitting cities, counties, and communities of interest among multiple districts; and to nest two Assembly districts exactly within each Senate district. The commission's new maps improve compactness significantly, and improve city splits and nesting modestly. (Public Policy Institute of California, "California's 2011 Redistricting: Challenges and Controversy," by Eric McGhee and Vladimir Kogan)

6. Where practicable each senate district should be comprised of two complete and adjacent assembly districts and board of equalization districts shall be composed of 10 complete and adjacent state senate districts.

Percent of Senate Districts Nested

3 districts were exactly 100-percent nested
9 districts were between 90- and 99-percent nested
10 districts were between 80- and 89-percent nested
15 districts were between 70- and 79-percent nested
3 districts were between 65- and 69-percent nested

7. Districts shall not be drawn to favor or discriminate against an incumbent, candidate, or political party.

There is little doubt that the maps produced by the CRC, and the process through which these plans came about, represented an important improvement on the legislature-led redistricting of 2001. The new district boundaries kept more communities together and created more compact districts while at the same time increasing opportunities for minority representation. If these maps survive the coming referendum and legal challenges, they have the potential to modestly increase competition in California elections and the responsiveness of the legislative branch to changing voter preferences. (Public Policy Institute of California, "California's 2011 Redistricting: Challenges and Controversy," by Eric McGhee and Vladimir Kogan)


Most of the criticism of the maps has come from people immersed in the manner in which redistricting was conducted in the past. It is their belief, based on their past experiences, that the maps were created with the sole objective to favor one group over another. I would suggest that they put aside their strongly held predispositions and carefully look at the whole process that was followed. By doing so they would see, as others have seen, that the extent to which any group benefited from the manner in which the commission followed the constitutional criteria was not achieved as an objective of the commission; it was the outcome of carefully following the prescribed process.