State Supreme Court Upholds California Voting Rights Act

Garance Burke, AP, March 21, 2007

A state law allowing voters to challenge at-large elections systems on the basis that they dilute the strength of minority voters will stand, after the California Supreme Court declined to review the case Wednesday.

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The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights sued the city of Modesto in 2004 on behalf of Hispanic voters there, charging that electing city council members to at-large seats instead of from districts diminished the strength of their votes. Though the city is one-quarter Hispanic, just one Hispanic has been elected to Modesto’s five-member city council since 1911.

The city argued that the California Voting Rights Act, which the plaintiffs relied on to demand change, was unconstitutional because it benefited certain racial groups.

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A Stanislaus County judge agreed and invalidated the act, saying it violated equal protection clauses of the state and federal constitutions.

But in December, the 5th District Court of Appeal held that the law did not create a system of reverse discrimination because it “does not favor any race over others,” and was “race-neutral.”

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Plaintiffs’ attorney Robert Rubin said Wednesday’s decision by the state justices “bodes well for fair and just representation of all people so that one person’s vote is not diluted as a result of their race.”

The case is Sanchez v. City of Modesto, S149500.

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