A conservative who led a successful legal challenge to a core provision of the federal Voting Rights Act is training his sights on California’s version of the law, which allows minorities to challenge the practice of local “at-large” elections on the basis of racial discrimination and seek to switch them to voting by district. The 2002 California Voting Rights Act forces cities, counties and school districts “to make race the sole factor in districting,” said Edward Blum, president of the nonprofit Project on Fair Representation, as his Virginia-based group asked a federal judge to overturn the law. The contention is related to the reverse-discrimination argument Blum’s group used in 2013 when it persuaded the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down the 1965 federal law’s central enforcement provision.
That provision, which Congress had renewed in 2006, set standards for determining whether state and local governments had a history of racial bias and therefore were required to get advance approval from the Justice Department for any changes in their voting rules or district boundaries. The court said the pervasive discrimination that may have justified the law in the past no longer existed — “Things have changed dramatically,” Chief Justice John Roberts declared for a 5-4 majority.
And although state courts upheld the California law in 2006, in a ruling the nation’s high court declined to review, a leading commentator on election laws says the new suit is “one to watch.”
In view of the Supreme Court’s recent scrutiny of race-based district lines, “it is an argument courts are likely to seriously consider,” said Rick Hasen, a law professor at UC Irvine. He said the suit could reach the high court, “where its fate would be uncertain.”