Attorney General Bonta Urges California Supreme Court to Protect the Voting Rights of All Californians

Monday, July 12, 2021
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OAKLAND – California Attorney General Rob Bonta today filed an amicus brief in City of Santa Monica v. Pico Neighborhood Association urging the California Supreme Court to issue a ruling that retains and strengthens key protections afforded under the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA). The case centers around what factors must be shown to establish that vote dilution has occurred, which unlawfully limits the ability of protected classes from meaningfully participating in the outcome of an election. In the friend-of-the-court brief, the Attorney General highlights the critical importance of the CVRA and lays out clear guardrails for a ruling that would protect Californians against unlawful vote dilution. 

“To truly be able to pursue a more perfect union, we must defend and protect the voting rights of all Californians,” said Attorney General Bonta. “For decades, the California Voting Rights Act has been an important tool for doing exactly that. At this critical juncture, we remain committed to upholding and strengthening our democracy. Ultimately, our diversity is our strength — and it is a key factor in what makes us who we are as a state. In California, all of our people are welcome and they all have the right to make their voices heard.”

The CVRA is a critical tool for ensuring fair and equal elections and preventing unlawful vote dilution in the state. It does not apply to statewide, federal, or state legislative elections, but solely to elections for multi-member governing boards of political subdivisions, e.g. city councils. Where violations have been found to occur, a court is required to implement appropriate remedies tailored to the specific circumstances, including potentially through the imposition of district-based elections. Since its passage in 2001, the statute has played a key role in helping to diversify local governing boards and councils. The CVRA builds on the Federal Voting Rights Act to offer more expansive protection designed to cater to California’s unique demographics. To establish vote dilution under the CVRA, there must be a showing that an at-large electoral system in particular has precluded a protected class from exercising the power it would otherwise have to meaningfully influence the outcome of elections if the at-large system had not been adopted. Although the CVRA has been in effect for approximately two decades, the California Supreme Court has never had an opportunity issue a ruling on the law’s interpretation or establish a standard for aspects of its implementation. Ultimately, retaining the CVRA’s protections is critical for upholding the voting rights of all Californians.

In the amicus brief, the Attorney General asserts:

  • A plaintiff must demonstrate an at-large voting system in particular has diluted the protected class’s electoral influence;
  • A plaintiff need not draw a majority or near-majority district to establish a CVRA claim, as was suggested in the court of appeal; and
  • A finding of vote dilution should be based on the totality of the circumstances. 

A copy of the friend-of-the-court brief in support of neither party is available here.

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