In July 2016, the Lawyers’ Committee, Garza Golando Moran, PLLC, and Dechert LLP filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas on behalf of Latino voters alleging that the method of electing Texas’s Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals judges violates the Voting Rights Act (VRA). The Texas Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals are the two highest courts in the state and decide critical issues of state civil and criminal law, respectively.
All 18 high court judges in Texas, nine for each court, are elected statewide. Because white Texans comprise the majority of the citizen voting age population (CVAP) 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.
Texas’s Latino CVAP comprises 26.5% of the state’s CVAP while white Texans comprise 56.4%. With Latinos in the minority and voting polarized along racial lines, Latinos have been significantly 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%, were Latino. Over the same time period, only five of the 77 justices to serve on the Supreme Court, or 6.5%, were Latino.
Plaintiffs in the case included seven individual Latino voters and La Union del Pueblo Entero, Inc. (LUPE), a Texas nonprofit membership corporation comprised largely of farm workers and other low-wage workers who reside in Texas.
Trial in this case was held in February 2018. Plaintiffs produced evidence that Texas could easily create single-member districts to increase Latino-preferred representation on the courts and that voting was consistently polarized along racial lines. Plaintiffs also presented evidence that every Latino judge who has ever served on the courts was initially appointed by the governor (no Latino candidate has ever won a race for an open seat or against an incumbent) and that once on the courts, Latino judges were uniquely at risk of losing re-election to white challengers because of racial bias in the electorate. Additionally, one of the two Latina judges currently serving on these courts, Republican Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Elsa Alcala, testified that she believed her racial background was a liability in Republican primaries and that her race was a reason she chose not to run for re-election in 2018.
Despite this evidence, the Court held that while plaintiffs satisfied much of what is required to prove unlawful vote dilution, partisanship, and not race, better explained the polarized voting patterns.
To read the complaint, click here.
To read the press release, click here.