Monday, February 26, 2018
Judge William Q. Hayes (S.D. Cal.) on Friday dismissed a challenge to a city's new single-member districts for its city council elections for lack of standing. The ruling means that the city's new districting plan stays in place.
The case, Higginson v. Becerra, arose when the City of Poway switched from at at-large system to a single-member-district system of elections for its four-member city council. The City made the change reluctantly, and only in response to threatened litigation by a private attorney, who wrote to the council that its at-large system violated the California Voting Rights Act. (The attorney argued that the at-large system, along with racially polarized voting in the City, effectively prevented Latinos from electing a candidate of their choice.) The council vigorously disagreed that its at-large system violated the CVRA, but agreed to change, anyway, in order to avoid litigation costs.
After the council drew its new single-member districts, Don Higginson, a voter in the new District 2, sued, arguing that the CVRA violated equal protection. His theory was a little unusual: "The CVRA makes race the predominant factor in drawing electoral districts. Indeed, it makes race the only factor given that a political subdivision, such as the City, must abandon its at-large system based on the existence of racially polarized voting and nothing more." (In other words: according to Higgerson, because there was racially polarized voting, any CVRA requirement to undo the effects of that voting in an at-large system violated equal protection.)
Higginson sued AG Becerra for injunctive relief (to stop him from enforcing the CVRA) and the City for injunctive relief (to stop it from using its single-member district map, as required by the CVRA (according to Higgerson)).
The court dismissed the case for lack of standing. The court said that Higginson's harm in not being able to vote for council-members in three of the four districts (because the CVRA required the change to single-member districts)--assuming this was even a cognizable harm--wasn't traceable to AG Becerra or the City. As to AG Becerra, the court said that the AG had not enforced the CVRA against the City, and therefore couldn't have caused Higginson's alleged harm. As to the City, the court said that it acted out of a desire to avoid litigation costs, not because it thought its at-large system violated the CVRA, and therefore it couldn't have caused his alleged harm in the name of CVRA compliance. (For the same reasons, the court said that Higginson failed to demonstrate that his requested relief would redress his alleged harm.)
Without causation and redressability, Higginson lacked standing, and the court dismissed the case.