Los Angeles, CA – A redistricting plan adopted in 2011 by the Kern County, California Board of Supervisors unlawfully denies Latinos the right to elect candidates of their choice, in violation of Section 2 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, a federal judge ruled today in a landmark lawsuit filed by MALDEF.
The order issued today by U.S. District Court Judge Dale A. Drozd, who presided over an 11-day bench trial in December, holds that the current plan is unlawful, and orders that the litigation proceed to the remedial phase, where the court will hear the proposals of the parties and adopt new, lawful plans for election of Supervisors. Plaintiffs have requested that those plans be implemented in the 2018 elections.
“Today’s decision should stand as a warning to other counties in California, a number of which also failed to comply with the Voting Rights Act during the last round of redistricting,” said Thomas A. Saenz, president and general counsel of MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund). “The growing Latino community is entitled to representation, and drawing lines to protect incumbents risks costly litigation to secure an eventual remedy to protect voters’ rights.”
The lawsuit, filed in April 2016 on behalf of four Latino residents, argues that a redistricting plan adopted in 2011 by the Kern County Board of Supervisors unlawfully denies Latinos the right to elect candidates of their choice, in violation of Section 2 of the federal Voting Rights Act. The court agreed with Plaintiffs that the boundary between District 1 and District 4 unlawfully fractures a large cohesive Latino community, submerging their votes in the larger Anglo electorate in both districts, thereby diluting Latino voters’ ability to participate effectively in the political process.
“After hearing and considering 11 days of trial testimony from Kern County residents, demographers, political scientists and historians, and from the Supervisors themselves, the court found that the current supervisorial plan renders the elections for Board members not ‘equally open to participation by Latino voters’,” said Denise M. Hulett, MALDEF national senior counsel and lead counsel in the case. “The Latino voting community has been unlawfully divided for decades. What the Board ignored, the court now will remedy.”
Judge Drozd will hold a hearing on the next steps for the remedial stage of the plan on March 6.
The lawsuit and bench trial marked the first challenge to a California jurisdiction for violating the federal Voting Rights Act since 2001.
Read the order here.