Just before city candidates will begin to sign up for running for office, a federal judge has issued a judgment and injunction prohibiting the City of Pasadena from using what she ruled was an unconstitutional redistricting plan. The municipality will also be placed under federal “preclearance” for six years–requiring Justice Department approval to any changes to election rules.
As reported by Breitbart Texas on January 10, U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal issued a 113-page opinion which stated, “In short, Pasadena’s elections are racially polarized. The City’s 2013 racially polarized vote in favor of the 6–2 redistricting map and plan and the Council’s 2014 vote to approve the change were narrowly decided. The effect was to dilute Latino voting strength. That effect was foreseeable and foreseen.”
An eight-district system was used before the city council changed the way candidates were chosen. The eight single-member district system had existed since 1992 and was previously approved by the DOJ. The city changed it to a six single-member district with two at-large positions.
On Monday, the judge issued her judgment and an injunction ordering the city “to restore the previous eight single-member district map and plan the City used in its May 2013 elections.” These districts were drawn in 2011 and were based on the most recent decennial census, the judgment noted.
The City of Pasadena, Texas, will be monitored by the Justice Department now that the judge ruled that the City violated the Voting Rights Act by intentionally changing its city council districts to decrease Hispanic influence. The City, which the court ruled has a “long history of discrimination against minorities,” was ordered to get permission from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to make any changes in election policy going forward, otherwise known as pre-clearance. The judge issued the lengthy opinion after a trial before the bench was held in December.
The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) filed the lawsuit in November 2014 against the City of Pasadena, Mayor Johnny Isbell, and eight city council members. The five Hispanic plaintiffs were registered voters in the city.
The federal complaint alleged that the City had violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. They pled that the U.S. Census estimate for 2008-2012 found that the citizen voting age population was 43% Hispanic. Representatives for MALDEF say that Latino registered voters in the city has grown in the last 16 years from 30.6 percent (2000) to 42 percent (2016).
Candidate registration for the May 2017 city council elections begins on January 18 and ends on February 17.
The federal judge “retains jurisdiction for six years to review before enforcement any change to the election map or plan that was in effect in Pasadena on December 1, 2013.” The period will end on June 30, 2023.
A change to the city’s election plan can be enforced without review by the judge if it has been submitted to the U.S. Attorney General and the AG has not objected within 60 days (“preclearance”).
The judge wrote, “Preclearance is particularly appropriate because the City seized on, and used, the absence of preclearance to avoid the statutory and constitutional limits on redistricting.”
The decision is the first of its kind in the Lone Star State after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2013 that Texas as a whole was no longer fit to operate under a DOJ preclearance regime. In the ruling’s wake, progressive activists have argued that the Voting Rights Act was effectively gutted, while more center-right experts argued that future generations will be freed from babysitting fully-reformed jurisdictions to focus on emerging problem areas.
“The Voting Rights Act is alive and well despite exaggerated claims to the contrary,” Public Interest Legal Foundation President J. Christian Adams told Breitbart Texas. “The Justice Department was once a place where all laws protecting our elections were enforced. Hopefully, a Sessions DOJ will return to that honorable tradition.”