SAN FRANCISCO — The state Supreme Court agreed Monday to review a challenge by Los Angeles County officials to a precedent-making trial court order requiring them to deputize welfare workers and other employees to register minority and low-income voters.
The justices set aside a state Court of Appeal ruling last June that upheld the order and found that county officials had shown "total lack of consideration of and apparent indifference to" the problem of low registration among disadvantaged groups.
Monday's action, agreeing to hear the case at a later date, was signed by Chief Justice Malcolm M. Lucas and Justices Edward A. Panelli, John A. Arguelles, David N. Eagleson and Marcus M. Kaufman. A ruling is expected next year.
The case resulted from a taxpayer lawsuit brought by Common Cause, the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups that submitted data showing that voter registration in Los Angeles County ranged from 90% in affluent, predominantly white areas to less than 30% in low-income, minority neighborhoods.
The suit, described by lawyers as the first such action in the nation, urged that the county be required to substantially expand its efforts to register voters.
In July, 1986, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Jack M. Newman issued a preliminary injunction ordering a far-ranging voter registration program that would require an estimated 20,000 non-emergency county employees to be trained as deputy registrars.
Under the order, these employees, primarily health and welfare workers, would seek to register qualified indigent and minority residents they encountered on the job. Workers would ask residents if they were registered to vote--and, if not, would provide a registration form and offer to mail it back to the county.
Similar programs have been established in Alameda and Contra Costa counties, but on a voluntary basis by county officials.
The appeal panel upheld Newman's order in an opinion highly critical of the county's effort to register voters. Officials, the appeal court said, had failed to follow state laws requiring them to maximize voter registration "at the highest possible level."