Latino civil rights advocates have so far run into a stone wall of indifference in trying to create a Los Angeles County supervisorial district where a second Latino could be elected to the board. They have vainly tried to persuade the U.S. Justice Department to file a Voting Rights Act lawsuit forcing the supervisors to draw new lines.
But now an influential supervisor, Mark Ridley-Thomas, who is African American, has taken their side, strongly advocating Justice Department intervention.
Still, the Latino advocates face a tough fight. I talked to Cruz Reynoso, a former State Supreme Court justice, about the Justice Department’s attitude. He had made his case personally with Justice Department attorneys.
“My sense is that unless they feel some pressure to do so, they would not,” he said. “This matter has been pending so long, I don’t see a lot of interest. The facts are overwhelmingly favorable to a Justice Department action if they should take one. It seems to me that Los Angeles County with millions (in population) would be a high priority. So my impression is they need some outside pressure to practically embarrass them to act.”
He said that the department is now occupied with Voting Rights Act cases in Texas and North Carolina. “Maybe they would rather go into the South where they are fighting a Republican governor and legislature (rather than) Los Angeles County where they are dealing with a Board of Supervisors that has been friendly (to the Obama administration).”
Ridley-Thomas told me that the Justice Department should file a lawsuit charging that the county Board of Supervisors violated the Voting Rights Act when it drew the current district lines. “The (best) likelihood it will be accomplished is through the courts,” he said. The act is designed to assure equal representation for minorities.
Ridley-Thomas was even stronger in a written statement. “So let’s cut to the chase,” he said. “What is the likeliest way to achieve adherence to the Voting Rights Act? Unfortunately, it won’t be through the action of this board I know the Latino community will once again have to look to the courts for protection of their voting rights.”
His comments are a major development in the important dispute over realigning the five supervisorial district boundaries. He is the board’s only African American, and his support of the Latino effort makes it a multi-racial campaign. And he is a prominent Democrat, which means he may have some influence with the Obama administration’s Justice Department.
In the last redistricting, he proposed a plan that would have made possible the election of a Latino in the 4th, coastal, district now represented by Don Knabe. The Ridley-Thomas proposal also would have realigned Mike Antonovich’s district to improve chances of an Asian American being elected to the board there. Although Knabe and Antonovich are lame ducks that will lose their jobs through term limits, they opposed Ridley-Thomas’ proposal. There are two other supervisors on the board, Zev Yaroslavsky and Gloria Molina, a Latina and the first of her ethnicity to be elected to the board. She represents a district that was created in 1990 only after the Justice Department went to court and forced the county to obey the Voting Rights Act.