Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas: Let the courts decide redistricting.


“The Board had an opportunity to make history today. For the first time since 1850, when Los Angeles County was incorporated, the Board of Supervisors could have chosen to voluntarily redraw district lines in such a way that safeguards the civil rights of all voters. With the benefit of hindsight, that should have been easy to accomplish. We all know that the courts found that in 1990, the Supervisors intentionally engaged in dilution of the Latino community’s voting strength; every effort should have been made to avoid a similar outcome this time. Protection of incumbents, reassignment of voters and deferral of election, or constituents’ comfort with their own current representative should not be the dominant criteria for adopting maps.

My support for two Latino-opportunity districts has not been about race, but rather about principle. It is about following the law. Since the beginning of the Board’s redistricting efforts, I have steadily maintained that adhering to the Voting Rights Act should be the primary goal of this body. This also has been the driving force behind the courageous and tenacious leadership of Supervisor Gloria Molina. Supervisor Molina worked tirelessly these past few months not to seek any special advantage for Latinos, but to ensure that upholding civil rights for all of the County’s citizens was the central focus of the Board’s debate.

Adherence to the Voting Rights Act has been contorted by some into an argument about racial divisiveness. That’s ironic, because it is the Voting Rights Act that ensures equality for all citizens. Enforcement of the VRA by the courts in 1990 resulted in the district boundaries now being defended by proponents of the status quo.

The Board heard evidence that racially polarized voting exists in Los Angeles County. We have heard this from the Voting Rights Act counsel to the California Citizen’s Redistricting Commission. We have heard it from civil rights advocates and academics. And we have heard from representatives of the Latino community – a community that makes up nearly half the population of this County.
It is my belief that the Board should have adopted a redistricting map that provides Latinos with the opportunity to elect candidates of choice in at least two of the five districts. The S2 Plan also increases the AP-I voting strength. Couldn’t we, for once, have willingly embraced the inevitable?

We had two opportunities to adopt a map that fully complies with the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

My support of Plan S2 stems from the experience of African Americans, who know all too well the adverse impact of disenfranchisement. I am proud to have stood in solidarity with those civil rights advocates who are merely seeking protection of the Latino community’s voting rights.

Such advocacy does not come at the expense of any other community. It is an expression of the tradition of civil rights and a fulfillment of the legacy left to us by Martin Luther King, Jr. and others who see voting as the primary tool of democratic expression.

When Martin Luther King, John Lewis and hundreds of African-American marchers locked arms and stepped forward to meet the violence that awaited them on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, they challenged the status quo and prevailing notions of democracy. They re-defined patriotism. I’m sure they never imagined their bravery and sacrifice would frame a debate and discussion such as the one we’ve had today, but they weren’t willing to die just for African-Americans. They were willing to die for the American ideal of democracy.

I believe strongly that either S2 or T1 is the right redistricting map, reflecting appropriate communities of interest and complying with the Voting Rights Act. Unfortunately, the board was unwilling to compromise. Ultimately, a federal court will likely determine whether a second, effective Latino-majority district is legally required.

In order to expedite that court review, to avoid further divisive delay and to avoid an unnecessary gamble on the uncertainty of an untested political process, I voted for A3 as amended. However, let me be clear: in voting for the A3 map, my sentiments remain unchanged. I am not endorsing the status quo. Rather, it is my expectation that endorsing the status quo will have the opposite effect; far from resolving the issue, the Board has hastened the court decision that appears necessary to determine district lines that comply with the VRA.

When there is no compromise, the courts must decide.”

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas on LA County redistricting

When redrawing the boundaries of the County, we have a constitutional obligation to follow the law, including and specifically the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Why is that particular piece of law so important for us to keep in mind? Because the Board has a record of failing to do so. We failed to be guided by its requirements in the 1990s and as a result, the courts re-drew the lines of our districts for us.

That should be a sobering memory.

We should make every effort to avoid having any other entity engage is what is the
fundamental responsibility of the Board — redistricting the County in a way that adheres
to the law.

I understand the concerns engendered by the prospect of change — by the prospect of
new communities and new borders; these concerns are natural and understandable. The
purpose of redistricting, however, is neither to preserve the status quo nor to engage in
social engineering. It is to undertake a dispassionate appraisal of the County’s
population and to re-draw lines according to what is required by law.

So I want to address the recent accusations that the maps submitted by myself and Supervisor Gloria Molina — maps that create a second Latino-majority district — are the
products of racial gerrymandering. There is no such effort or intention to do so. It is incumbent upon the Board, however, to acknowledge the growth of the Latino population in the County, to re-draw the lines in accordance with that growth and most importantly,
to avoid a repetition of past mistakes.

[Download the complete statement here.]
[Download the full Community Empowerment Plan S2 Map here.] [For more general information on redistricting, visit the LA County Redistricting site.]

Below is commentary made by Lynwood Mayor, Aide Castro, and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher partner, George Brown on the September 6 board meeting.

 

Mark Ridley-Thomas & Gloria Molina each propose new LA County redistricting plans

Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Supervisor Gloria Molina each proposed new redistricting plans today, both of which adhere to the spirit and letter of federal civil rights laws and as a result would create two Latino-opportunity voting districts in the County.

“I have maintained from the start of the redistricting process that our top priority as a Board must be to adhere to federal standards, including the Voting Rights Act requirements,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “These requirements were not created abstractly to promote the political dominance of one interest group at the expense of other groups, but to serve all voters fairly. That the maps submitted today by Supervisor Molina and myself result in the creation of Latino-opportunity voting districts is purely a consequence of our commitment to abide by the civil rights laws that undergird our representative democracy and that have made our County better.”[pullquote_right]“I have maintained from the start of the redistricting process that our top priority as a Board must be to adhere to federal standards, including the Voting Rights Act requirements,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas.[/pullquote_right]

“Our new maps simply follow the numbers,” said Supervisor Molina. “By doing so, our new maps honor both the letter and the spirit of the Voting Rights Act, which outlaws voting discrimination based on race and serves as the legal foundation of our modern Civil Rights Movement. If approved, either new map will ensure that no minority group’s voting power is unfairly enhanced or diluted at the expense of another. Our new maps simply follow the law and the legal precedent set by the Garza vs. County of Los Angeles U.S. Supreme Court case. The Garza ruling clearly recognized and acknowledged how generations of disenfranchisement based on race prevented Los Angeles County from achieving the colorblind society we all strive for. We should persist on this righteous path because, in doing so, we propel the spirit of our American Civil Rights Movement into this new century.”

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas’ proposed map, submitted as the “African-American Coalition Map,” moves the eastern San Fernando Valley into the first District, connecting it with downtown Los Angeles and unincorporated East Los Angeles, among other changes, and designates the I-605 corridor portion of the San Gabriel Valley as the Fourth District.

The map also includes a coastal district that runs from Malibu through Long Beach to Cerritos. It also consolidates the central L.A. county community of Florence-Firestone, an unincorporated area currently divided between two supervisorial districts. Since unincorporated areas receive the bulk of their municipal services from the County, uniting Florence-Firestone is of particular importance and will diminish confusion and promote greater governmental accountability.

Supervisor Molina’s proposal, submitted as the “Voting Rights Compliance Map” is similar to the coalition map, leaving the Second and Fifth Supervisorial Districts largely unchanged. However, it proposes dramatic changes elsewhere. The First District would contain the I-605 corridor portion of the San Gabriel Valley and the Third District would stretch from the San Fernando Valley just west of the I-405 through Eagle Rock and downtown Los Angeles as far south as Lynwood and include communities to the west of the I-710.

Every 10 years, the County is legally required to use data from the latest U.S. Census to redraw district boundaries to ensure equitable distribution of population. It must also, however, avoid even unintentional disenfranchisement of minority voters. The map currently supported by a majority of the Board falls short in this regard: it concentrates Latinos into one district and disperses the rest into four districts, clearly diluting their voting power.

“Three times in 1965, African Americans marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, linking arms to insist that this nation live up to the ideals set forth in the Constitution,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas . “Stalwarts of the Civil Rights movement — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., John Lewis, Rev. Ralph Abernathy and thousands of marchers faced down the opposition and resistance in their way so that all Americans would have equal voting rights under the law.”

With the introduction of these two maps, the Board will consider at least three proposals: one recommended by its Boundary Review Committee called Plan A-2; Supervisor Molina’s VRA Compliance Map; and the African- American Coalition Map introduced by Supervisor Ridley-Thomas.

To view the maps submitted by the Supervisors as well as those submitted by the public, visit www.redistricting.lacounty.gov and going to the “Boundary Review Committee” tab and selecting the “Submitted Plans” option.

Hispanic Population & LA County Supervisorial District Maps – 1970-2011 (PDF)