Voices & Choices

Supreme Court Denies Hearing on the California Voting Rights Act

Supreme Court Denies Hearing on the California Voting Rights Act

The latest attempt to dismantle the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) has ended with a whimper. The Supreme Court has denied a petition for certiorari in Higginson v. Becerra. This will allow a previous appellate court decision dismissing the case to stand. As FairVote noted in October of last year, former Poway, CA mayor Don Higginson triggered this case when, in 2017, he challenged the CVRA, claiming it requires local governments to adopt gerrymandering processes in violation of Fourteenth Amendment equal protection rights.

The District Court dismissed Higginson’s claim and the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld that decision in December. The decision by the Supreme Court not to take up the case should end this line of attack on the CVRA. It also indicates that the justices do not see any merit to the argument that the CVRA infringes upon equal protection rights.

FairVote filed an amicus brief in the Ninth Circuit arguing that the CVRA allows for remedies to vote dilution other than the adoption of single member districts.California cities and municipalities could hold at-large elections while adopting fairer voting methods like cumulative voting, multi-winner RCV, or limited voting. These remedies do not require district drawing, making it impossible to argue, as Higginson tried, that the CVRA imposes a particular type of district drawing. This point was made in Palm Desert, CA, which recently agreed to adopt ranked choice voting to fix vote dilution faced by its Latino population after a CVRA lawsuit.

The Supreme Court’s determination that Higginson’s argument was not worth the court’s time is not only a win for the CVRA. It is also a boon for states around the country which have in recent years passed CVRA-esque statutes or are currently mulling over similar legislation. Among others, the 2018 Washington Voting Rights Act and the proposed New York Voting Rights Act, like the CVRA, are clear that district-based elections are only one possible remedy to vote dilution and municipalities should take appropriate action tailored to remedy the violation. In Washington State, Yakima County adopted ranked choice voting to fix diluting the vote of its Latino population. The Supreme Court has now indicated, by denying a hearing, that a challenge of this type does not hold weight.


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