LOS ANGELES - The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California filed suit today in federal court on behalf of residents of City Council District 13, who have been deprived by the City Council of representation on that body. The City Council on January 23rd refused to fill the seat formerly held by Jackie Goldberg, who vacated her City Council seat after the November 2000 election, in which she won a seat in the State Assembly. The ACLU of Southern California charges that the continued vacancy violates the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the City Charter, because it deprives the constituents of the 13th District of a voice on the City Council, even as the Council makes decisions which profoundly affect them.
Section 409 of the new City Charter, which went into effect on July 1, 2000, states that: "Vacancies in the offices of Mayor, City Attorney, controller, and members of the City Council shall be filled by either appointment or election in the manner set forth in this section." Subsections 409 (a) and 409 (b) spell out that the Council shall either appoint a replacement or schedule a special election for a replacement prior to the next election.
"Our nation was founded on the principle that taxation without representation is unjust," said Dan Tokaji, staff attorney at the ACLU of Southern California. "But that's exactly what's happening to over 250,000 residents of this city, who have no voice and no vote on the City Council. All of the Councilmembers know how important their work is to the people who live in their districts, and how important it is for constituents and their interests to be represented vigorously. There is no excuse to continue disenfranchising the people in District 13."
"Whether the issue is police reform, paramedic services, park land, or budget allocations," said Tokaji, "the Council's decisions shape the lives of Los Angeles residents. Public policy and resource allocation matter to individual districts and are shaped by the interests of different neighborhoods and communities. Those interests will not be represented by Councilmembers from other districts."
At the meeting on the 23rd, over a hundred residents of District 13 referred to the Boston Tea Party by waving tea bags to symbolize their lack of a voice in their own government. Some City Council members have proposed extending the vacancy through the runoff election on June 5.
Professor Erwin Chemerinsky and City Attorney James Hahn have both urged the City Council to act swiftly to fill the vacancy to ensure that the City Council does not operate in violation of its own charter.