LOS ANGELES – A federal judge on Wednesday dismissed a lawsuit filed by a former mayor of Poway that sought to overturn the city’s district based election system and challenged the constitutionality of the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA).
“The civil-rights effectiveness of the CVRA is fully demonstrated by this contrived lawsuit financed by national forces that have long demonstrated hostility to minority voting rights,” said Thomas A. Saenz, president and general counsel of MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund). “The litigation is meritless, and we look forward to the Court of Appeals upholding the district court’s dismissal of the suit.”
The decision by U.S. District Judge William Q. Hayes follows a ruling last month dismissing the California Attorney General from the lawsuit, and ordering Don Higginson, the former Poway mayor, to amend the lawsuit or show cause why the entire lawsuit should not be dismissed, including as to the city and groups that intervened to defend against the lawsuit.
Higginson declined to amend the lawsuit and asked the court to dismiss the case so he could “seek review in the Ninth Circuit against all Defendants,” according to court documents.
“The CVRA is constitutionally-sound legislation that allows California voters to remedy vote dilution caused by at-large elections,” said Julia Gomez, a staff attorney at MALDEF. “We commend the court’s decision rejecting Mr. Higginson’s attempt to deprive communities of this important tool.”
Higginson filed the federal suit in November 2017, alleging the move to district-based elections and the CRVA are unlawful and result in racial gerrymandering. His lawsuit was filed just one month after Poway, located in San Diego County, moved from an at-large election system in which all voters choose all council members, to smaller neighborhood districts in which residents elect their own representative. City officials said they made the change fearing they would be sued for violating the CVRA.
In June 2018, a federal court of appeals allowed MALDEF, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, and the Law Office of Joaquin G. Avila to intervene in the case on behalf of several voters who seek to defend their access to political representation as required by the CVRA.
The CVRA has successfully addressed concerns that at-large voting systems too often dilute the voting strength of minority groups. By contrast, district-based systems allow under-represented groups to elect representatives of their choice from their own communities.