court advises on applying ‘racially polarized vote’ analysis to challenge to California voting rights law | Best Best & Krieger LLP


Decision of the Court of Appeal in Yumori-Kaku et al. v. City of Santa Clara

The method of electing members of the City of Santa Clara city council – in which each council member is elected by all voters in the city – violated the California Voting Rights Act, a California appeals court held to the end of last year. The Sixth District Court of Appeal ruled that the appeal requiring the city to pass municipal council elections at the district level did not violate the equal protection clause. He determined that the CVRA continues to apply to charter cities and does not infringe on their plenary authority to control how they elect their leaders. Finally, the court upheld the trial court’s award of more than $ 3 million in attorney fees and costs to the plaintiffs and also awarded costs to the plaintiffs on appeal.

In Yumori-Kaku et al. v. City of Santa Clara, five Asian American residents sued the city, claiming that the city’s general election for council members violated the CVRA and that the “racially polarized vote” between the electoral choices of Asian American voters and Non-Asian voters of Asian origin prevented Asians from voting. Americans elect the candidates of their choice to city council. The plaintiffs sought a court order to compel the city to implement district-level elections and attorney fees and costs.
The trial court ruled that the CVRA had pre-empted the city’s charter provision establishing a general election. The court of first instance then concluded, on the basis of the statistical analyzes presented at the trial, that:

  1. a “racially polarized vote” occurred in five of the 10 municipal elections of 2002 and 2016 and where Asian Americans consistently voted as a bloc in six of those races, and
  2. The “racially polarized vote” existed in four of the nine school elections between 2000 and 2016.

As a result, the trial court found that the City had violated the CVRA and ordered, as a remedy, that the City set up district elections for six city council seats and maintain the general election system. for the seat of the mayor starting with the Election of November 2018.

The city also took issue with the trial court’s use of statistical evidence to support its finding of “racially polarized voting.” On appeal, the city argued that these statistics did not demonstrate a “racially polarized vote” – that the majority voting block (Caucasian voters) was “generally” voting to defeat the candidate preferred by Asian-American voters. The City argued that “generally” means “more than 50%”.

The Court of Appeal ruled that the plaintiffs’ demonstration of a “racially polarized vote” in five of the last ten municipal elections was sufficient. The court held that under the CVRA, when the factual findings show an equal number of polarized and non-polarized elections over time, a trial court may find that a “racially polarized vote” has occurred. product. In rejecting a strict mathematical test, the court held that this legal standard requires consideration of local circumstances and a balancing of factors. Whether repeated occurrences of “racially polarized voting” meet the “usually” requirement depends on the local context and the factual circumstances.

In addition, the Court of Appeal dismissed the City’s allegations that the appeal of the elections at the district level violated the equal protection clause. The court cited to Sanchez v. Town of Modesto (2006), finding that only the rational basis examination was the applicable standard and that, therefore, the remedy did not violate Equal Protection. Under the “rational basis” test, most government regulations, including the CVRA’s mandate, will pass a challenge of equal protection.

The city then argued that a chartered city has plenary power under the California Constitution to decide how members of its city council are elected, which includes general elections. The Court refused to depart from the 2014 ruling in Jauregui v. City of Palmdale, who ruled that the CVRA prevails over the contrary provisions of the charter. The court also noted that lawmakers have since codified detention into Palmdale to expressly subject the provisions of the charter to the CVRA. In concluding that the trial court had not erred, the court upheld the award of the attorney’s fees and costs and awarded the plaintiffs their costs on appeal.

The decision of the Court of Appeal in Saint Clare will make it more difficult for cities and public agencies to defend themselves against the CVRA’s challenges to their general electoral systems, in particular by refuting the third Pins factor because the court rejected a strict quantitative threshold to measure whether a majority has voted sufficiently as a bloc to allow it to “generally” defeat the candidate preferred by the minority.

Public bodies are now awaiting the decision of the California Supreme Court in Pico Neighborhood Association v. City of Santa Monica, after the appeals court ruling favored the City of Santa Monica against the plaintiff’s CVRA claim.

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