Comparing the Los Angeles County redistricting to the gerrymandering in the South, a political scientist Thursday testified in a voting rights trial that county supervisors have drawn their districts with a "racially discriminatory intent" aimed at weakening Latino political influence.
"It was not possible to protect five Anglo incumbents . . . without discriminating against the Hispanic population," said J. Morgan Kousser, a Caltech professor.
Kousser was paid $30,000 by the plaintiffs in a historic lawsuit accusing the supervisors of splitting up Latinos among three districts, thereby diluting their political influence in violation of the federal Voting Rights Act.
After studying county redistricting from 1959 to 1989, he submitted to U.S. District Judge David V. Kenyon a 95-page report concluding that "anti-Hispanic gerrymandering in Los Angeles bears a good deal of resemblance to anti-black gerrymandering in the Deep South from Reconstruction on."
County attorneys objected to Kousser's testimony, claiming he drew conclusions that ought to be left to the judge. In court papers, county attorneys refer to Kousser's testimony as "nothing more than a tendentious harangue based largely on hearsay."
Kenyon said he would listen to the testimony and decide later if it should be removed from the record.
In his report, Kousser testified that as evidence of the county's discrimination against Latinos in redistricting, "imagine a split-screen movie showing, on one side, the demographic spread of the Hispanic core during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, when it grew primarily in an easterly direction out of the San Gabriel Valley. . . .
"On the other side of the screen would be a movie of the geographic extension of the 3rd supervisorial district from 1959 to 1980, an expansion in almost completely the opposite direction--north and west, away from East Los Angeles, into the Anglo suburbs."
Kousser cited the 1959 county redistricting when then-Supervisor Ernest Debs, shortly after narrowly defeating Ed Roybal, a Latino, added the predominantly white Westside to his district in order to dilute the political influence of East Los Angeles, a heavily Latino neighborhood.
Debs, reached at his home in Indian Wells, said: "I've never discriminated against anybody in my life. . . . I carried East Los Angeles very, very big" in subsequent elections until he retired from the board in 1974.
County attorneys have argued that conservative Supervisors Pete Schabarum, Mike Antonovich and Deane Dana in 1981 pushed for a plan that would have established a 50% Latino population in liberal Supervisor Ed Edelman's district.
But Kousser said that plan, which did not get the four votes required for approval, failed to consolidate the growing Latino neighborhoods in Schabarum's district.
The plaintiffs, the U.S. Justice Department, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, are seeking to create a predominantly Latino district, from which a Latino would stand an improved chance of winning a seat on the Board of Supervisors.