Prof. Justin Levitt's Guide to Drawing the Electoral Lines

California

State Summary

California uses an independent commission to draw congressional and state legislative districts; the first 8 commissioners for the 2020 cycle were chosen on July 2, 2020, and the remaining 6 commissioners were chosen on Aug. 7, 2020.

In the 2010 cycle, the independent commission voted on Aug. 15, 2011 (12-2 for congress, 13-1 for state legislature) to approve final legislative and congressional maps; the maps were precleared on Jan. 17, 2012.  State and federal lawsuits challenging the congressional and state Senate maps, and a state challenge to the composition of the commission itself, were rejected.

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Institution:

Drawn by:

Plan Status:

Party Control:
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  Lower House:
  Governor:

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The Latest Updates

Aug 7, 2020
The final commissioners of California's 14-person independent commission were appointed.  Information about the selection process is here.
Jul 17, 2020
The California Supreme Court agreed to extend state constitutional deadlines for the state's independent commission to produce maps, in light of anticipated delays by the Census Bureau.

Institution

California’s congressional and state legislative lines are drawn by a 14-member independent commission, created by ballot initiative in 2008, with expanded scope granted in 2010. Commissioners must have voted in at least two of the last three statewide elections, and may not have changed party affiliation for at least five years. Neither commissioners nor immediate family may have been, within ten years of appointment, a candidate for federal or state office or member of a party central committee; an officer, employee, or paid consultant to a federal or state candidate or party; a registered lobbyist or paid legislative staff; or a donor of more than $2,000 to an elected candidate. Furthermore, neither commissioners nor immediate family may be staff, consultants, or contractors for state or federal government while serving on the commission. [Cal. Gov’t Code § 8252(a)]

With an eye to analytical skills, impartiality, and diversity, a panel of three state auditors choose 20 Democrats, 20 Republicans, and 20 who are neither to be nominees for the commission; the four legislative leaders (majority and minority leader in each legislative house) may each cut two people from each pool. Eight commissioners (3 Democrats, 3 Republicans, 2 neither) are chosen randomly from the remaining nominees; those eight choose six colleagues (2 Democrats, 2 Republicans, 2 neither), to reflect the diversity of the state. The final commission thus has 14 members (5 Democrats, 5 Republicans, 4 neither). [Cal. Gov’t Code § 8252(b)-(g)]

The commissioners are listed here.

Nine votes are necessary to approve a plan: 3 Democrats, 3 Republicans, and 3 neither. [Cal. Const. art. XXI, § 2(c)(5)] Each map is also subject to public referendum. If the commission fails to pass a map, or a map is overturned by referendum, the California Supreme Court will select special masters to draw that map; the California Supreme Court also has exclusive jurisdiction in state court for legal challenges to maps that are passed. [Cal. Const. art. XXI, §§ 2(j), 3(b)]

Timing

The commission must produce congressional and state legislative plans by Dec. 15, 2021, thanks to a four-month extension by the state Supreme Court, in light of COVID-19-related delays in Census data.  [Legislature v. Padilla, No. S262530, __ P.3d __, 2020 WL 4033129 (Cal. July 17, 2020)]  If the commission does not pass a plan by that date, the Secretary of State must ask the California Supreme Court to appoint special masters to do so. [Cal. Const. art. XXI, § 2(g), (j)] If, within 90 days of the plan’s enactment, a referendum petition is signed by voters amounting to 5% of the 2020 gubernatorial vote, the plan will be submitted for referendum at a special statewide election or at the next general election. [Cal. Const. art. II, § 9]

At present, candidates must file for congressional and state legislative primary elections by Dec. 10, 2021, unless an incumbent running for reelection fails to file by that date, in which case the filing deadline is Dec. 15, 2021. [Cal. Elec. §§ 8020(b), 8022]  These dates may be adjusted in light of the extended deadlines for commission plans.

California prohibits redrawing district lines mid-decade, before the next Census. [Legislature of State of Cal. v. Deukmejian, 34 Cal.3d 658 (1983)]

Public input

Commission proceedings are subject to the state Open Meetings Act; commission records, redistricting data, and computer software will be available to the public. Both the commission and the legislature must issue public reports after drawing the plans for state legislative or congressional districts, explaining their decisions. [Cal. Const. art. XXI, § 2(h); Cal. Gov’t Code § 8253]

In the last cycle, the commission held extensive hearings in nine different regions throughout the state. Transcripts of past hearings and meetings are here; links for streaming video of live hearings and archived videos of past hearings are here.

The commission invited public input, at these hearings and beyond, with more than 2700 witnesses giving testimony. Materials explaining the mechanism for input are here. The nearly 20,000 comments submitted by the public are archived here.

Criteria

Like all states, California must comply with constitutional equal population requirements.  California law requests that the redistricting commission adjust population data to account for the distortion caused by people in prison, deeming each incarcerated person to be located at their last known residence. [Cal. Const. art. XXI, § 2(d)(1), 52 U.S.C. 10301 et seq.; Cal. Elections Code § 21003]

California must also, like all states, abide by the Voting Rights Act and constitutional rules on race.

The California constitution further requires that districts be contiguous. To the extent possible, they must also preserve the geographic integrity of cities, counties, neighborhoods, and communities of interest. To the extent practicable, and where so doing does not violate higher-priority constraints, districts must also encourage compactness, defined by lines that do not bypass nearby population in favor of more distant population. Finally, where practicable, and where not in conflict with the criteria above, state Senate and Assembly districts must be nested within each other. [Cal. Const. art. XXI, § 2(d)]

In drawing maps, the commission may not consider candidate residences, and districts may not be drawn to favor or discriminate against a candidate or party. [Cal. Const. art. XXI, § 2(e)]

2010 cycle

A new independent commission, established by citizen’s intiative, controlled the process.  The commission voted on Aug. 15, 2011 to approve congressional maps (12-2 vote) and state legislative maps (13-1 vote); those maps were precleared by the DOJ on Jan. 17, 2012.

A 2012 referendum on the state Senate districts qualified for the November 2012 ballot.  The California Supreme Court ruled that the Commission’s lines would be used temporarily, for the 2012 elections, until the referendum was held — and then the referendum was defeated at the polls, confirming the district lines until the next cycle.  [Vandermost v. Bowen II, 53 Cal.4th 421 (2012)]

The congressional and state Senate plans were challenged in state and federal court, and the composition of the commission itself was challenged in state court.  No challenge was successful.  [Vandermost v. Bowen, No. S196493 (Cal. Sup. Ct. Oct. 26, 2011); Radanovich v. Bowen, No. S196852 (Cal. Sup. Ct. Oct. 26, 2011); Radanovich v. Bowen, No. 2:11-cv-09786, 2012 WL 13012647 (C.D. Cal. Feb. 9, 2012); Connerly v. California, No. 34-2011-80000966 (Cal. Super. Ct., Sacramento Cnty. Nov. 6, 2017)]

2000 cycle

California’s legislature controlled the redistricting process. The state Assembly, state Senate, and congressional maps were enacted on Sept. 26, 2001, and precleared on Nov. 30, 2001.

The state Senate and congressional plans were challenged in federal court, and the state Assembly plan was challenged in state court.  No challenge was successful. [Cano v. Davis, 211 F. Supp. 2d 1208 (C.D. Cal. 2002); Nadler v. Schwarzenegger, 137 Cal.App.4th 1327 (2006)]

Redistricting Cases in California

Search all California Cases >

California | State Supreme | Process
Legislature v. Padilla
State court modified deadlines for independent commission in light of census delay
Last Updated Jul 17, 2020
Case Number No. S262530 (Cal. S. Ct.)
Cycle 2020
California | State Trial | State Appellate | Process
Connerly v. California
Plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed state court challenge to commissioner selection reflecting state diversity, under state constitution
Last Updated Nov 6, 2017
Case Number No. 34-2011-80000966 (Cal. Super. Ct., Sacramento Cnty.); No. C073753 (Cal. Ct. App., 3d App. Dist.)
Cycle 2010
California | State Supreme | Congress
Radanovich v. Bowen I
State court rejected challenge to congressional maps: alleged unconstitutional use of race, state constitution, Voting Rights Act
Last Updated Oct 26, 2011
Case Number No. S196852 (Cal. S. Ct.)
Cycle 2010