The Voting Rights’ Case Against the City Takes Another Turn, Remanded Back to Original Court

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It’s been nearly eight years since Pico Neighborhood Association and Maria Loya v. City of Santa Monica in the matter of California Voting Rights was first filed and the case has now winded its way full circle back to the original court that first heard the case. On Friday, the California Appeals Court on Friday remanded the voting rights case against the city back to the court that first heard the case and ruled in the plaintiffs favor in 2019.

This move occurred six months after the California Supreme Court first remanded the case back to the appeals court after finding that the appeals court had mis-applied the law when it overturned the original court ruling.

Confused? Don’t feel bad. This case has a particularly strange and winding road. Originally filed in 2016, plaintiffs argued that Santa Monica’s voting system was unfair to minority voters and disenfranchised and reduced their political power. The plaintiffs were asking the court to replace the city’s voting system, where seven Councilmembers are elected in an at-large election, with one where seven smaller council districts are created and candidates would run in these hyper-local districts.

Originally, the courts ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in 2019, but that ruling was overturned by an appeals court. The case found itself in front of the California Supreme Court in 2023, which remanded the case back to the appeals court which had ruled in the city’s favor with instructions on how to apply the law. 

Written arguments were submitted last week, and the appeals court wasted no time and remanded the case back to the original court that had ruled in favor of the plaintiffs.

When the Supreme Court overruled the appeals court last year, I wrote that it seemed unlikely to me that the appeals court would rule in the plaintiffs favor. In the eight years that have passed since the initial filing, there has been a shift in the demographics of the Council which undercuts the argument that it is difficult for Latinos to have representation on the governing body: in 2016 there was one member of the Council of Latino heritage, Gleam Davis, while today there are four: Davis, Oscar de la Torre, Christine Parra and Lana Negrete.

However, the move to have the original court, the same one that found the city to be out-of-compliance with state and federal laws, makes it anyone’s guess for what the next ruling might say.

Still confused about the timeline? The City tries to lay out all of the stops this trial has made on this website, although it doesn’t have a link to last week’s changes.

Damien Newton
Damien Newton
Damien is the executive director of the Southern California Streets Initiative which publishes Santa Monica Next, Streetsblog Los Angeles, Streetsblog San Francisco, Streetsblog California and Longbeachize.

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