But some Republicans have complained that the Lowenthal proposal would still leave too much power in the hands of legislative leaders, who would pick a majority of the commissioners.I respect both of these legislators (Stagwatch: Poochigian's CoS is CMC, and last year's Legislative Staff Member of the Year; Debra Bowen, while not a Stag, would've been my State Senator - 'cept I was gerrymandered into Ed Vincent's district) - and each argument has merit. However, as I told a reader here yesterday, the "white-male-bench" reason for siding with the commission set-up just doesn't fly with me. It is true that the bench is just starting to become more "diverse" (and, arguendo, we'll go with the notion that the bench should be diverse in the conventional usage of the word) and consequently the ranks of retired judges look less like the state of California than the term-limits-shuffled State Legislature. However, lawmakers and Californians alike need to look at this change as one designed to last for decades, if not for the next century. Don't let short-term problems lead us to enact short-sighted policy.
Sen. Chuck Poochigian, R-Fresno, said the University of California president and the Judicial Council also could be influenced by lawmakers in making their appointments to the commission.
"Having retired judges serving makes a lot of sense," he said. "I'm not so sure we can find (other) people who will be as dispassionate and nonpartisan."
But the committee's chairwoman, Sen. Debra Bowen, D-Redondo Beach, said a redistricting commission composed of retired judges probably wouldn't include any women or minorities.
"We still have a retired bench that reflects a previous era of California history when women and minorities didn't much go to law schools," she said.
Already, more women than men are attending law school. The number of minorities is rising too - especially here in California. It takes 10 years of good standing as a lawyer to qualify for a seat on a Superior Court bench. Which means, to make an educated guess, in about 4 to 7 years, a new crop of diverse lawyers can start running for (har har - I mean, forward themselves for midterm appointment to) Superior Court judgeships. It will take time from there to age and eventually retire - but the day will come. And, let us not forget, we're talking about a process occurring once every ten years.
California's judicial [s]election process is deeply troubled (at least from a government nerd's perspective). It's also, frankly, ripe for the taking by any number of interests groups. MALDEF, LULAC, any number of API orgs, the NAACP, etc, could - with relatively little effort - put more people of color on the bench because no one is really trying to do anything with the courts right now and they are, in fact, elected offices.
I'm in no way saying I'd be in favor of politicizing - especially not in racial/ethnic terms - judicial elections, but the fact remains: the opportunity is there.
The bottom-line, though, as I said yesterday in the comments of The Monkeys-With-Darts post, drawing the lines is a remarkably apolitical exercise if it's in the hands of disinterested cartographers. Actually, they aren't cartographers - the computer is the cartographer - the Chosen Ones are merely a supervisorial body. If the rules are correctly set, it's hard to mess it up. If. And that's no small thing.
My good friends at the Rose Institute of State and Local Government have some wonderful publications on redistricting reform, as well as draft language and histories of past redistricting efforts. It's a radical, yet obvious, approach to dividing the state and rebuilding how we think about drawing the lines. Unfortunately, they seem to have taken down a lot of these publications - we'll tell 'em to get them back up, stat.
If you set the rules, the attributes of the body guiding the process are immaterial. If you allow the body to set the rules, then, yeah, you got problems. A commission is better than the Legislature, but less desirable than retired judges - who, if you're patient (fat chance in term-limits land), will soon "represent" the state in terms of their ethnic and gender make-up.
[Note: For the second time, I caught myself writing "ACA 3" rather than "SCA 3." I've made the correction now, but please email me if you catch me doing it again. Blame my pro-Assembly bias (and that up until 6 months ago, SCA author Lowenthal would've been authoriing ACAs - damn term limits).]