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After 7 Years, Voting Rights Lawsuit Could Be Decided Soon

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By Jorge Casuso

March 14, 2023 -- Nearly two-and-a-half years after the California Supreme Court took up a 2016 voting rights lawsuit against the City, the closely watched case is likely coming to an end.

In a letter Thursday, the Clerk and Executive Officer of the Court advised attorneys for the two parties that oral arguments will be heard "within the next few months."

"Once the court files an order setting this case for oral argument, that date will not be changed absent exceptional cause, such as a medical emergency," wrote Jorge E. Navarrete.

According to the Supreme Court's website, oral arguments are scheduled "after the justices conclude that they have had sufficient time to consider the matter and that (the case) is ready to be heard."

The court hears oral arguments -- which in the Santa Monica voting rights case could be scheduled as early as next month -- "during one week in each month from September through June," the site states.

Within 90 days of oral arguments, the court files its written opinion, which becomes final 30 days after filing, unless there is a rehearing or the court modifies its decision.

In order to set a date for oral arguments, the Court Clerk asked the two parties to identify dates they are unable to attend.

"Any counsel who believes good cause exists to avoid scheduling oral argument for a particular date should inform the court within 7 calendar days from the date of this letter with a detailed explanation for such cause," Navarrete wrote.

"Thereafter, counsel must immediately update the court on an ongoing basis as additional conflicts constituting good cause may arise."

Good cause conflicts include "significant health-related issues," "prepaid and nonrefundable travel arrangements" and "significant family events such as weddings."

Conflicts found not to constitute good cause include "scheduled trial and hearing dates in lower courts" and "conflicting professional seminars, meetings, or conventions."

According to Court filings, Kevin Shenkman, the lead attorney for the Latino plaintiffs in the case, was granted his request "to avoid the potential oral argument dates of April 3-7 and June 8, 2023, (which) is supported by good cause."

On Monday, the City's lead attorney, Theodore J. Boutrous Jr., informed the Court he is "unavailable for argument on May 8, 9 and 10."

Boutrous, a partner in the law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, said he would be "presenting argument in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia on the afternoon of May 9 and traveling the day before and the day after."

The California Supreme Court agreed to hear the voting rights lawsuit -- which claims the City's at-large election system discriminates against Latino voters -- in October 2020 ("Supreme Court Takes Up Voting Rights Lawsuit," October 21, 2020).

The Court's decision is expected to focus on an Appellate Court ruling that found the plaintiffs' failed to prove the system "diluted" the voting power of Latinos ("Santa Monica's Election System Does Not Violate Latino's Voting Rights, Appeals Court Rules," July 9, 2020).

Carving out a District with 30 percent Latino voters, as mandated by Superior Court Judge Yvette M. Palazuelos, would make little difference, the court said ("Judge Orders Special District Elections for Council in Final Ruling," February 15, 2019).

In his reply brief, Shenkman strongly disagreed with the ruling, arguing the decision "completely ignores the section of the California Voting Rights Act that says you don't have to have a majority minority district."

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