Federal Voting Rights Lawsuit in Texas Continues Following Rejection of State’s Motion to Dismiss
Case Challenges Discriminatory Method of Election for Highest Courts in State of Texas
CORPUS CHRISTI, TX and WASHINGTON, DC, April 4, 2017 – This week, a federal district court judge denied the State of Texas’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit alleging that the method of electing Texas’s Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals violates the Voting Rights Act.
The two courts are the highest in the state and decide critical issues across the state. The lawsuit alleges that the statewide method of electing judges to these courts is discriminatory and denies Latinos an equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choice. In Texas, whites vote as a bloc resulting in the defeat of candidates supported by the Latino community.
In the opinion in the case of Lopez v. Abbott, Judge Nelva Ramos held that all Plaintiffs, including seven Latino voters and a Latino civic organization, have standing to bring the suit. Judge Ramos also rejected Texas’s argument that Plaintiffs had failed to state a cause of action under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, noting that the Supreme Court has already held that Section 2 applies to judicial elections. The case will now proceed to trial.
“This case makes clear that voting discrimination remains rampant across the state of Texas,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “The courts at issue render decisions that affect all Texans, but the current method of election prevents minority voters from electing candidates of their choice to these important tribunals. From our litigation against the state of Texas regarding their discriminatory photo ID law to this case challenging the discriminatory method of electing judges, much work remains to be done to address voting discrimination across the state.”
Texas’s Latino citizen voting age population (CVAP) comprises 26.5 percent of the state’s CVAP while white Texans comprise 56.4 percent. With Latinos in the minority and voting polarized along racial lines, Latinos have been drastically underrepresented on both courts for decades. Since 1945, only two of the 48 judges to serve on the Court of Criminal Appeals, a mere 4.2 percent, were Latino. Over the same time period, only five of the 77 justices to serve on the Supreme Court, or 6.5 percent, were Latino.
In their complaint, Plaintiffs have alleged that, if the election process were changed from statewide to districts, two districts could be created with a majority of CVAP of Latino voters, increasing the likelihood that Latino voters could overcome the bloc voting of white voters and have the chance to elect candidates of their choice to these courts. In prior judicial vote dilution cases, courts have often rejected similar claims because they found that the state’s interest in linking the jurisdictional and electoral bases of judges outweighed the evidence of vote dilution. However, Judge Ramos recognized that the linkage interest is particularly weighty when trial judges are at issue. Here, plaintiffs challenge the method of electing appellate judges. Unlike trial judges, who courts have indicated may be more susceptible to local influences because they decide cases by themselves, appellate judges decide cases as part of multi-member panels. Judge Ramos’s opinion also recognized that plaintiffs must allege only that racial factors govern voting patterns and need not disprove the influence of other factors on electoral outcomes.
“For decades, Latino Texans have been forced to sit on the sidelines of democracy while white Texans elect their preferred judges,” said Jose Garza, a civil rights attorney and partner at Garza Golando Moran, PLLC. “It is time for these two courts to move into the 21st Century and fully reflect the diversity of our state.”
“Latinos been denied a fair shake when it comes to electing the most powerful judges in Texas,” said Neil Steiner, a partner at Dechert LLP, which is representing the plaintiffs pro bono. “We look forward to litigating this case and to establishing that a more just system is required.”
Plaintiffs are represented by the Lawyers’ Committee, Garza Golando Moran, PLLC, and Dechert LLP.
A link to the opinion attached.
This case is part of the Lawyer’s Committee’s ongoing work to challenge voting discrimination by state courts. In 2016, the Lawyers’ Committee also filed a federal voting rights lawsuit challenging the discriminatory method of election used for the Alabama’s State Supreme Court and its two highest appellate courts.
Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
Garza Golando Moran, PLLC
About the Lawyers’ Committee:
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers’ Committee), a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, was formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination. Formed over 50 years ago, we continue our quest of “Moving America Toward Justice.” The principal mission of the Lawyers’ Committee is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice under law, particularly in the areas of fair housing and community development; employment; voting; education; and criminal justice. For more information about the Lawyers’ Committee, visit www.lawyerscommittee.org.
About Garza Golando Moran, PLLC:
Garza Golando Moran, PLLC is a general practice law firm based in San Antonio that predominately serves clients in central and south Texas. The firm specializes in several different areas of law including voting and civil rights, state and local government, and legislative procedure. For more information about Garza Golando Moran, PLLC, visit http://www.ggmtx.com/.
About Dechert LLP:
Dechert LLP is a global specialist law firm focused on sectors with the greatest complexities and highest regulatory demands. We deliver practical commercial insight and judgment to our clients’ most important matters. Nothing stands in the way of giving clients the best of the firm’s entrepreneurial energy and seamless collaboration in a way that is distinctively Dechert. For more information about Dechert LLP, visit https://www.dechert.com/.