The Lawyers’ Committee, along with voting rights attorneys Jose Garza and Joaquin Avila, represented the Mexican American Legislative Caucus of the Texas House of Representatives (“MALC”) in this litigation to oppose preclearance under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of redistricting plans adopted by the State of Texas in 2011 for Congress and the state House of Representatives.
At the time of this litigation, Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act required that covered jurisdictions, such as the State of Texas, obtain Section 5 preclearance for all new voting practices and procedures, including redistricting plans. To obtain preclearance, the jurisdiction was required to demonstrate that its new voting provisions neither have the purpose nor will have the effect of discriminating on the basis of race, color, or membership in a language minority group.
Following a trial in January 2012, the three-judge district court in Washington, DC denied Section 5 preclearance on August 28, 2012 in a lengthy and mostly unanimous opinion. The court found that the congressional redistricting plan both had a retrogressive effect and a racially discriminatory purpose. The court denied preclearance to the state house plan on retrogression grounds, and though it did not make a determination as to whether this plan also had a discriminatory purpose, the court observed that “at a minimum, the full record strongly suggests that the retrogressive effect we have found may not have been accidental.” Other intervenors opposed preclearance of the redistricting plan for the state senate, and the court denied preclearance finding that this plan also was motivated by a racially discriminatory purpose.
Earlier in the case, on November 8, 2011, the district court denied Texas’ motion for summary judgment. In its order, the court explained that Texas had argued for an incorrect Section 5 legal standard, and also that trial was necessary since there were contested issues of material fact regarding the purpose and effect of the plans. At oral argument on the summary judgment motion, one of the three judges singled out the brief prepared by the Lawyers’ Committee on behalf of the seven different groups of intervenors as having been especially helpful to the court.
Following the August 2012 denial of preclearance, Texas filed an appeal with the Supreme Court. In response, the Lawyers’ Committee filed a brief on behalf of MALC and four other groups of intervenors urging the Court to affirm the district court’s ruling. The brief argued that the district court properly relied on the well-established legal framework for determining Section 5 preclearance, and properly applied that framework to the Texas redistricting plans. Before the Supreme Court could rule, the Texas Legislature adopted new redistricting plans to replace the plans that were denied preclearance, and the district court dismissed the case as moot.