California Supreme Court Watch

Oct 21, 2020
Pico Neighborhood Assn. v. City of Santa Monica, S263972.

#20-310 Pico Neighborhood Assn. v. City of Santa Monica, S263972. (B295935; 51 Cal.App.5th 1002; Los Angeles County Superior Court; BC616804.) Petition for review after the Court of Appeal reversed the judgment in a civil action. The court directed the parties to brief the following issue: What must a plaintiff prove in order to establish vote dilution under the California Voting Rights Act (Elec. Code, §§ 14025-14032)?

Review granted: 10/21/2020

Case fully briefed: 5/12/2021

Cause argued and submitted: 6/27/2023

Opinion filed: Judgment reversed: 8/24/2023

See the Court of Appeal Opinion.

See the Petition for Review.

See the Oral Argument.

See the California Supreme Court Opinion.  (Pico Neighborhood Association v. City of Santa Monica (2023) 15 Cal.5th 292.)

“In this case, the trial court determined that because of racially polarized voting, the at-large method of electing city council members in the City of Santa Monica (the City) diluted Latino voters’ ability to elect their preferred candidates and their ability to influence the outcome of council elections, as compared to several alternative electoral methods, including district elections. To remedy this violation, the trial court ordered the City to promptly conduct a special election using a seven-district map drafted by an expert who testified at trial.

The Court of Appeal granted a stay of the judgment and then reversed. It disagreed with the trial court’s finding that the at-large method of election had ‘impaired Latinos’ ability to elect candidates of their choice or to influence the outcome of an election.’ In the Court of Appeal’s view, there had been no dilution of Latino voters’ ability to elect their preferred candidates because Latino voters were too few and too geographically dispersed ‘to muster a majority, no matter how the City might slice itself into districts.’ The court likewise found no dilution of Latino voters’ ability to influence the outcome of an election because a group’s ability to influence an election, the Court of Appeal reasoned, has no meaning independent of the group’s ability to elect its preferred candidate. In light of its findings, the Court of Appeal found it unnecessary to consider whether racially polarized voting had been established.

We conclude the Court of Appeal misconstrued the CVRA….  A court presented with a dilution claim should undertake a searching evaluation of the totality of the facts and circumstances (see, e.g., Elec. Code, § 14028, subd. (e)), including the characteristics of the specific locality, its electoral history, and ‘”an intensely local appraisal of the design and impact” of the contested electoral mechanisms’ as well as the design and impact of the potential alternative electoral system. (Gingles, supra, 478 U.S. at p. 79; see Allen v. Milligan (2023) ___ U.S. ___, ___ [216 L.Ed.2d 60, 75] (Milligan).) In predicting how many candidates are likely to run and what percentage may be necessary to win, courts may also consider the experiences of other similar jurisdictions that use alternative electoral systems. (Cf. Gingles, at p. 56.)

Because the Court of Appeal did not evaluate the dilution element of the CVRA under this standard, we reverse the judgment and remand the matter to the Court of Appeal for it to reconsider in the first instance the CVRA claim presented here.”

Justice Evans authored the opinion of the Court, in which Chief Justice Guerrero and Justices Corrigan, Liu, Kruger, Groban, and Jenkins concurred.

In the news: Casuso, Supreme Court Reverses Voting Rights Ruling, Santa Monica Lookout (Aug. 23, 2023).