Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law Filed Lawsuit to Challenge Discriminatory Method of Electing Texas’s High Court Judges
CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas and WASHINGTON, D.C. – On Monday, a federal district court will hear arguments in the trial phase of a major voting rights lawsuit filed by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Garza Golando Moran, PLLC, and Dechert LLP. The suit, filed on behalf of Latino voters, challenges the discriminatory method of electing justices to the Texas Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals, the two highest courts in the state. These courts decide critical issues arising under state civil and criminal law and issue rulings that impact the lives of all Texas residents.
“The way in which Texas elects judges to two of the state’s highest courts denies minority voters a fair opportunity to elect judges of their choice,” said Kristen Clarke, President and Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “Bringing Texas state courts into compliance with the Voting Rights Act can help instill greater public confidence in the state’s justice system and may lead to greater diversity. In our opening arguments, we observe that voting discrimination persists across the state and outline extensive evidence making clear that Texas’s method of electing judges violates the Voting Rights Act.”
All 18 high court judges in Texas, 9 for each court, are elected statewide. Because white Texans comprise the majority of the citizen voting age population in the state, and because Latinos consistently prefer different candidates than do whites, Latino-preferred candidates are almost never elected to the highest levels of the state’s judiciary. Such vote dilution is prohibited by the Voting Rights Act and the state could develop and implement a more representational electoral method.
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 significantly underrepresented on both courts for decades. Since 1945, only 2 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 5 of the 77 justices to serve on the Supreme Court, or 6.5 percent, were Latino.
Plaintiffs in the case include six individual voters from Nueces County and an individual voter from El Paso County.
“For too long the voice of the Latino community has been missing from the critical secret conference rooms of the Texas Supreme Court and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals,” said Carmen Rodriguez, plaintiff in this case and longtime civil rights attorney and activist from El Paso. “It is vital that we bring the promise of the Voting Rights Act to the selection process of the members of these august judicial bodies.”
Because Texas’s judges largely represent only one subset of Texas voters, there are serious questions as to whether all of the circumstances of a diverse population are fully considered. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals hears all death penalty cases in the state. From 1977 to 2010, of the 92 executions of Latinos nationwide, 78 were executed in Texas. Recent Supreme Court decisions of critical importance to racial minorities, including a May 2016 ruling limiting school funding for English language learners and economically disadvantaged students, were issued without so much as a dissent.
“All Texas citizens should have the right to cast a meaningful, undiluted vote for their most important courts,” said Ezra Rosenberg, Co-Director of the Voting Rights Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “For decades, that right has been denied to Latinos in Texas. Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act was designed precisely to deal with this circumstance.”
“For too long, the Latino community in Texas has had no say in who represents them on the highest courts in the state,” said Jose Garza, a civil rights attorney and partner at Garza Golando Moran, PLLC. “The recent school finance ruling is a clarion call to every minority in Texas: Your voice will not be heard by these courts. Now is the time to listen to the millions of Texas minorities who want a seat at the table to help decide the matters important to our community. I am proud to represent these brave clients and work with some of the best legal minds in voting rights to fight for my state and my community.”
“Being able to participate fully in our electoral system is a fundamental right of all citizens,” said Neil Steiner, a partner at Dechert LLP, which is representing the plaintiffs pro bono. “We look forward to vindicating those rights for Texas’s Latino population.”
To read the full complaint, originally filed in July 2016, click here. This case is part of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law’s extensive efforts to address voting rights violations that exist across state judicial systems, including a challenge to the method of electing judges to the three highest courts in Alabama.