Putting voters back in charge of the state government requires having more representatives in Sacramento, activists argue. Their lawsuit was launched by a coalition that includes the California Libertarian Party, the Marin County Green Party, a group of Native Americans, and secessionists who have sought for years to form a new state, Jefferson, out of portions of northern California and southern Oregon. Former federal judge Alex Kozinski is helping litigate the case.
The effort faces an undeniably daunting path forward, in part because courts have been generally unwilling to adjudicate questions of political representation. (The same reluctance has stymied legal efforts to restrict gerrymandering, the practice of drawing legislative districts to benefit one political party over another.) But the activists pushing for more representation in California’s legislature argue that the state’s current legislative framework disenfranchises minorities, including Native Americans and Hispanics—a claim that has convinced federal courts to intervene in gerrymandering cases—as well as anyone who lives outside the state’s population centers.
A federal district court tossed the case in 2018, but the activists are now appealing to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, with oral arguments likely to occur later this year or in early 2020. A victory there could send the case back to the lower court for a hearing on the merits.
The state is again trying to get the case dismissed. “Even if a federal court possessed the authority to increase the number of state legislative districts in California, there are no judicially discernible and manageable standards” for deciding how many seats are appropriate, attorneys for Alex Padilla, California’s secretary of state, argued in a brief filed in August.