Saying they don't trust government officials alone to protect Latino voting interests, Chicano civil rights attorneys said Monday that they will ask a federal judge to let them join the Justice Department's lawsuit to overturn the 1982 Los Angeles City Council redistricting plan.
Representatives of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and other Latino groups said the opposing sides in the case--the Reagan Administration and the city--cannot be expected to honestly pursue fairness for Latinos in the lawsuit, which calls for a redrawing of voting district lines.
"We just don't feel that Latino interests will be adequately represented by the Justice Department," said Linda J. Wong, associate counsel for the fund in Los Angeles, who said the Reagan Administration's use of the Voting Rights Act of 1982 is undermining gains for Latino voters in several regions of the country.
Wong, who praised the filing of the lawsuit, nevertheless complained that instead of using tests as required in the Voting Rights Act to detect violations, the Justice Department has adopted an intent standard. Thus, the Justice Department can assert that discrimination must be purposeful in order to show that a violation has occurred, Wong said.
"They clearly have not been favorable to the Hispanic community," she said.
In the case of the city, an official with Californios for Fair Representation said a redistricting plan that would have given Latinos a fair shot at election to the City Council was presented in 1982.
"But they (the city) did nothing with it," Californios spokeswoman Elaine Zamora said. "They ignored it."
At the time the plan was presented, there were no Latinos on the City Council. It was one of several plans formulated that year by Californios.
The Justice Department sued the city in November, contending that the city's 1982 reapportionment plan--setting the current boundaries for the 15 council districts in Los Angeles--diluted the strength of Latino voters and violated their rights under the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution.