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Arguing that California's newly drawn Senate districts are unconstitutional, a Republican Party-backed group filed a lawsuit today asking the California Supreme Court to kill the new maps.

"We believe there are serious constitutional flaws in the maps produced by the redistricting commission, and these are matters that the Supreme Court should look at immediately," spokesman David Gilliard said.

Gilliard's group, Fairness & Accountability In Redistricting (FAIR), also is collecting signatures in a referendum drive aimed at asking voters to reject the newly drawn Senate districts in a statewide election next June.

California's 40 state Senate, 80 Assembly and 53 congressional districts were drawn for the first time this year by a 14-member independent panel, the California Citizens Redistricting Commission, rather than by the Legislature.

Gilliard's group has raised nearly $500,000 thus far for its two-pronged effort to kill the Senate maps, including $188,000 from the California Republican Party and a cumulative $200,000 from current or past GOP state senators.

Many political analysts have said the new districts give Democrats a strong chance of gaining two additional seats in the Senate, enough to gain the two-thirds supermajority needed to raise taxes or fees.

Gilliard, in a written statement, said the new boundary lines dilute Latino voting clout in parts of the state and violate criteria established by voters in a 2008 ballot measure that created the redistricting commission.

The redistricting commission, through spokesman Rob Wilcox, said that members are "confident that its final district maps will withstand any and all legal challenges."

"The commission followed the U.S. and California constitutions in drawing the district maps in an open and transparent process," the panel said.

Approval of the new districts required support from at least three of five Republicans on the redistricting commission, three of five Democrats, and three of four independent or minor-party members.

Specifically, FAIR's lawsuit alleges that the new Senate lines are unconstitutional because:

Eleven of the districts do not adequately consider compactness, contiguity, communities of interest, and existing county boundary lines.

Two major counties, Sacramento and San Bernardino, are unnecessarily split into six different districts.

The maps violate federal law by reducing the voting power of Latinos in Monterey, Santa Clara and the San Fernando portion of Los Angeles County.

The lawsuit also will ask the Supreme Court to convene special masters now to draw interim Senate districts if the group's referendum qualifies for the ballot, FAIR's written statement said.

Commissioner Vincent Barabba, a Republican who voted in favor of the new districts, said in an opinion piece published in The Bee last month that California's newly drawn districts reflect "geographic and common-sense boundaries."

"The commission tried to minimize city and county splits where possible," he wrote. "But the reality is that each district must be basically the same population, necessitating that not all municipalities will be kept whole. When we did have to split a community, we did so thoughtfully while consulting the public testimony we received."

FAIR specifically is targeting the state's new Senate districts in its lawsuit and referendum drive. A separate group, led by Republican strategist Carlos Rodriguez, is pushing to overthrow congressional lines at the ballot box.

* Updated at 4:05 p.m. to say the lawsuit, announced this morning, had formally been filed with the Supreme Court.

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              Page Updated: Saturday February 25, 2012 05:11 AM  Pacific

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