WASHINGTON — The Republican National Committee, pinning its hopes on a recent Indiana federal court decision, asked the Supreme Court on Wednesday to rule that the California congressional district lines drawn by Democrats are unconstitutional.
"California Democrats not only schemed to destroy the Republican Party in that state but more important, they attempted to silence the power of the people to choose their representatives in fair elections," said Republican National Committee Chairman Frank J. Fahrenkopf Jr. at a news conference.
The ability to control once-a-decade reapportionment of congressional and state legislative districts traditionally has been a lever with which the political party controlling the Legislature strengthens its numbers in elected offices. The district lines engineered in 1982 by the late Rep. Phillip Burton (D-San Francisco) has helped make the state's 45-member congressional delegation solidly Democratic.
California Rep. William M. Thomas (R-Bakersfield), one of the leaders of efforts to dismantle the existing system, pointed out that while California's Republican congressional candidates received more votes than Democrats in last fall's election, they won only 40% of the races.
"It's important when people vote that they not only (believe) their vote counts, but that it really counts," said Thomas, whose own oddly shaped district has been dubbed the "Jaws" district because it twists in an arc from the coast to the Nevada border.
California Rep. Robert E. Badham (R-Newport Beach), one of the petitioners in the request for a Supreme Court review, said California's situation is "strikingly similar" to the Indiana case.
Ironically, however, the Indiana case was one in which Democrats complained that they had been unfairly discriminated against by the Republicans who controlled the reapportionment process.
In that case, decided Dec. 13, a three-judge panel ruled that the district lines drawn for the 1982 election were unconstitutional because they did not reflect the state's political balance. Democratic candidates for the Indiana Legislature won 49% of the votes in 1982, but only 43% of the seats.
California Republicans have been unsuccessful in their previous attempts to dismantle the district lines. A federal appeals court in California refused to hear their complaint, and the state Supreme Court refused to allow an alternative proposed by state Sen. Don Sebastiani (R-Sonoma) onto the ballot. Voters also rejected a proposal to allow retired judges to redraw the lines.