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The California Supreme Court will hear oral arguments next week to consider which district lines will be used in this year's state Senate elections if a referendum challenging newly drawn districts qualifies for the ballot.

The session will be held Tuesday, Jan. 10, in the Supreme Court Courtroom at 350 McAllister St., San Francisco.

The high court announced recently that it expects to rule "as early as the end of January" on the issue.

A Republican-backed group, Fairness and Accountability in Redistricting (FAIR), sparked the judicial review by gathering more than 700,000 signatures in an effort to let voters decide the fate of Senate maps drawn by the state's citizens redistricting commission.

If 504,760 of the 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 upcoming primary and general elections while a statewide vote on the referendum is pending. Twenty of the state's 40 Senate seats will be up for grabs ithis year, those from odd-numbered districts.

FAIR contends that the commission-drawn maps 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.

Commission officials consistently have defended the new Senate maps, and the California Supreme Court rejected a FAIR lawsuit challenging the legality of the lines drawn.

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.



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