If you haven’t already read this excellent story from the New York Times about the City of Pasadena, Texas, check it out, as it’s necessary for context. Also, take a look at Professor Rick Hasen’s analysis of the initial court ruling and his comments on the subsequent order regarding enforcement of the initial ruling.
Why this matters: this is the first jurisdiction since the Shelby County v. Holder decision that has had preclearance requirements imposed on it by a federal court.
Briefly, and for those of you who are new to this story, here are the highlights: In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court issued the above-mentioned decision that cut the heart out of the Voting Rights Act, effectively eliminating the historical process whereby the U.S. Department of Justice reviewed changes in voting procedures adopted by certain jurisdictions.
Emboldened by this Supreme Court decision, the mayor of the City of Pasadena, Texas, then pushed a new city election strategy, allegedly (per the NYT story above) to limit the power of Hispanic voters in municipal elections.
Pasadena, Texas, has a large Hispanic population (about 62.2% of the roughly 154,000 people who live there), but its city government has been dominated by whites, and the city has historically been racially polarized.
By replacing single-member districts with at-large districts, the new city election plan diluted minority voting strength and reduced the likelihood that Hispanic voters could get proportionate representation on the city council.
The city was sued, and now, three years later, a federal court has ruled that the city-altered method for choosing its city council members was motivated by “racial animus,” the finding that (under Section 3(c) of the Voting Rights Act) justified court-ordered preclearance for local laws affecting elections .
As a consequence of the federal court’s finding that the City of Pasadena’s method for electing city council members was intended to limit the ability of Hispanic voters to influence city policy, the city’s racially motivated redistricting plan has been struck down.
Importantly, the city has been ordered to submit future changes in city redistricting and voting procedures to the Voting Section of the Civil Rights Division at the U.S. Department of Justice for review.
The story is particularly timely and relevant as the future of voting rights enforcement in our country hangs in the balance.
As noted in multiple news stories, Jeff Sessions—the current nominee for the position of U.S. Attorney General—has had what can best be described as a “chequered” (or “checkered,” for us Americans) past with respect to his opposition to civil rights generally, has been openly hostile towards the Voting Rights Act for his entire legal career, and is now poised to helm the U.S. Department of Justice.
In the case of Mr. Sessions’ pending appointment to the position as the highest attorney in the federal government, the clichéd phrase, “fox in the henhouse” doesn’t quite sum up the potential damage to civil rights enforcement.
Jeff Sessions as Attorney General is more, “Tyson Industries announces appointment of ravenous vulpine predator to be responsible for overseeing all domestic chicken production in U.S.”