As Perez et al. v. Perry et al. enters its second phase (today was set aside for a pretrial conference on discovery issues, etc), with the bench trial on the 2011 Congressional districts set to begin on August 11th, another redistricting lawsuit is going on in Irving, Texas. (per the Dallas Morning News, www.dallasnews,com/news/community-news/irving)
At issue is whether Irving ISD has managed to create the appearance of minority opportunity single-member districts for its board elections without actually solving the problem of entrenched, decades-long hostility toward Hispanic voters. The district’s population demographics have changed substantially over the last few years, with much of the growth in population coming from an increaze in the district’s Hispanic population, but the district has resisted abandoning its at-large system for electing board members, only recently adopting a 5-2 plan (five single-member districts and two at-large positions).
There are a couple parallels between this lawsuit and the huge one getting national attention down in San Antonio. Both involve political responses to a shift in demographics that increases the number of Hispanics relative to white voters, and both involve a somewhat subtle argument about the use of blocs of Hispanic populations that are ineligible to create superficially balanced single-member voting districts.
The suit itself is interesting, but my favorite part of the Dallas Morning News coverage is the appallingly awful testimony elicited by the plaintiff’s attorney from one of the school board trustees.
Steven Jones was the only trustee who voted against creating five single-member districts. He wanted to keep the at-large system so candidates would have more opportunities to run.
Before taking the stand, he called the lawsuit “money flushed down the toilet.” On the stand, his knowledge of the issue was questioned by Bickel & Brewer lawyer Kenneth Hickox.
“You don’t really have any idea how the Voting Rights Act applies to the school district, do you?” Hickox asked.
“No,” Jones said.
“You don’t think it’s important enough?” Hickox asked later.
“No,” Jones said.
That’s the kind of testimony that can prompt an attorney to ask for a short recess to confer with the witness.
Another trustee quickly admitted that the board had been racially non-representative of the school district population for decades, but argued that the fault lay with Hispanic voters for failing to enlist candidates from their community.
It will be interesting to see if the court replaces the current 5-2 plan with a 7-0 plan (seven single-member districts) as is the common outcome in litigation like this to remedy minority underrepresentation on a school board. I expect it’ll be the 7-0 plan in the end.