Lessons from the 1973 California Masters' Plan
Gordon E. Baker
From 1974 through 1980, legislative and congressional elections in California were held in districts drawn, not by the legislature or a commission, but by court-appointed Masters. From the perspective of approximately a decade later it is now possible to examine this unique undertaking. What lessons can we learn from the experience? To what extent did the actual results validate the objectives set forth in 1973 by a three-man, nonelected agency unfamiliar with the intricacies of legislative apportionment, as well as the political world? And, finally, does the experience help define the meaning of "fair and effective representation for all citizens" as articulated by the United States Supreme Court from Reynolds v. Sims ( 377 U.S. 533 ( 1964)) through Davis v. Bandemer ( 106 S. Ct. 2797 ( 1986)).
The circumstances responsible for this episode emerged from the intense political conflict in California that followed the 1970 census. The state legislature, controlled by Democrats, passed several reapportionment measures that were vetoed by the Republican governor on gerrymandering grounds. With no valid redistricting laws in effect, the State Supreme Court retained existing legislative districts for the 1972 election only. Such an expedient was not possible for the congressional delegation, since California had gained five seats. Consequently, the district lines drawn by the legislature but vetoed by the governor were implemented by court order for the 1972 election only. When the impasse between legislature and governor continued into 1973, the high court appointed three retired judges to serve as Special Masters to fashion new district lines for the court's approval. The presiding Master was Martin J. Coughlin, a former State Court of