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The California Supreme Court expects to rule "as early as the end of January" on which state Senate districts would apply to next year's state elections if a referendum challenging newly drawn maps qualifies for the November ballot.

The high court released an expedited briefing schedule today in response to a petition by Fairness and Accountability in Redistricting, a Republican-backed group pushing to kill the Senate maps drawn by the Citizens Redistricting Commission.

The group, known as FAIR, has submitted more than 700,000 signatures to the state. If 504,760 of those signatures are from valid voters, the group's referendum will qualify for the November ballot.

To prepare for that possibility, the state Supreme Court must decide which state Senate districts would be used in next primary and general elections while a statewide vote on the referendum is pending.

Justices told both parties to submit arguments this month in preparation for oral arguments in early January.

The Supreme Court rejected two measures of "immediate relief" sought by FAIR: Appointment of a special master to advise it on redistricting, and suspension of the Dec. 30 start of a program allowing candidates to gather voter signatures in lieu of paying a filing fee.

David Gilliard, FAIR spokesman, applauded the high court's decision to tackle the issue of Senate maps.

"It recognizes that there's a good chance that we'll qualify this thing, and it lays out a schedule for arguments," he said.

The redistricting commission responded through Stan Forbes, current chairman, that the Supreme Court previously has found the state Senate maps constitutional and that it is questionable that FAIR's referendum will qualify for the ballot.



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