On December 30, 2020, the California Court of Appeals – Sixth District rendered a unanimous opinion affirming the decision by the Superior Court Judge Thomas E. Kuhnle ruling that the City of Santa Clara’s at-large election system diluted the vote of Asian Americans and thus violated the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA). Acting Presiding Justice Eugene Premo, writing for the court stated, “We find no reversible error in the trial court’s interpretation of the governing legal principles and its application of the law to the evidence presented at trial.” Justice Franklin D. Elia and Justice Allison Danner joined Justice Premo in this historic decision. The Superior Court’s order in 2018, which was affirmed today, required the City of Santa Clara to conduct its City Council elections from six single-member districts rather than at-large, as the City had done since its charter was adopted 70 years ago. In all those years, Santa Clara had never elected an Asian American to the city council, but in the 2018 and 2020 elections using districts, three of the six candidates elected to the council were Asian American.
Richard Konda Executive Director of the Asian Law Alliance stated, “the long history of discrimination against Asian Americans on a national, state and local level exacerbates structural barriers to their political participation, like the at-large election system in Santa Clara. The CVRA’s protections are crucial to ensure that Asian Americans and all other groups have an opportunity to elect candidates of their choice and meaningfully participate in California’s political process in their local governments.”
Plaintiffs LaDonna Yumori-Kaku, Wesley Mukoyama, Herminio Hernando, Umar Kamal and Mike Kaku are represented by the Law Office of Robert Rubin in Mill Valley, Goldstein, Borgen, Dardarian & Ho of Oakland, and the Asian Law Alliance of Santa Clara County. One of the plaintiffs, Wes Mukoyama, noting that the decision aligns the courts’ legal decisions with the political choices of Santa Clara’s voters, who since 2018 have rejected two ballot measures proposed by the former city council majority that would have reinstated multi-member at large districting, Mukoyama stated,, “Measure A was defeated in 2018 and Measure C was defeated in 2020. The people have spoken that they want six districts. Now they will have districts.”
Morris Baller, from the law firm of Goldstein, Borgen, Dardarian & Ho, who argued the case before the Court of Appeals, stated, “this decision confirms that the careful and measured decision by the trial court, finding the City of Santa Clara violated the rights of Asian American voters for years, was legally correct as well as fair in curing a historic injustice.”
Robert Rubin, who initiated the case when he warned the city in a letter as far back as 2011 that its at-large system violated the CVRA, and participated in representation of the Asian American plaintiffs throughout the litigation, stated, “the election of Raj Chahal in 2018, Kevin Park, Suds Jain, and Anthony Becker in 2020, under the trial court’s remedial maps, dramatically illustrates how the elimination of at-large elections can bring down structural barriers to the election of qualified minority-preferred candidates.”
The CVRA was enacted by the California Legislature in 2002 to eliminate racially discriminatory at-large election systems. Hundreds of cities, school districts and special districts have eliminated at-large elections in favor of more inclusive district-based elections.