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New Senate districts to remain, California Supreme Court says

January 27, 2012 | 11:11 am

This post has been updated. See below for details.

The California Supreme Court decided Friday to leave the boundaries of newly drawn election districts in place for this year’s state Senate races.

Republican opponents of the new Senate districts had asked the state high court to discard the plan in anticipation of a possible November ballot measure that would let voters decide the maps' fate.

A nonpartisan citizens commission drew the boundaries, which Republicans fear will reduce their seats in the Legislature. A Republican-backed group collected signatures for a November ballot measure to abolish the new districts and asked the court to either draw new lines or use old boundaries for state Senate races in June and November.

State officials are scheduled to complete a count of the signatures on Feb. 24. So far, fewer than half the counties, and primarily smaller ones, have finished their counts, verifying that 78% of the signatures were valid. If that ratio holds, the referendum will qualify. [Updated 11:36 a.m. Jan. 27: The secretary of state's office updated its count this morning, verifying that 72% of the signatures so far are valid, which would be enough to qualify if the percentage holds.)

The court’s unanimous decision, written by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, called the commission’s maps "a product of what generally appears to have been an open, transparent and nonpartisan redistricting process.

"We are aware of no basis upon which to reasonably question the legality of the commission’s certified state Senate map,” she wrote for the court.

Republicans behind the legal challenge said the courts gave short shrift to the wishes of Californians who had signed the petitions. “We are very disappointed that the court has apparently allowed their historical distaste for the reapportionment process to cloud their judgment and view of the law," said Sen. Mimi Walters (R-Laguna Niguel).

"The court’s opinion is short-sighted and disrespectful of the over 700,000 Californians who signed referendum petitions in the hope of getting a fair Senate redistricting plan for 2012 that respects the state Constitution.”

Dave Gilliard, the GOP advisor behind the petition drive and the lawsuit, said the court made a mistake.

"Sadly, the chief justice applied a flawed, politically based precedent established by former Chief Justice Rose Bird, who was removed from office by the voters for repeatedly ignoring the Constitution and the will of the voters," Gilliard said.

But Peter Yao, a member of the Citizens Redistricting Commission, said the court decision was the correct one based on the law.

"I’m extremely pleased with the court’s decision. The court has agreed that our maps are legal and that they are the best maps to use for the 2012 election," said Yao, a Claremont engineer. "We felt very comfortable with what we had done."

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