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Voting Rights Act

Pasadena Mayor Used City Resources to Campaign For Prop 1, Anti-Hispanic Charter Amendment


by: Katherine Haenschen

Thu Oct 31, 2013 at 10:00 AM CDT


Pasadena Mayor Johnny Isbell, Champion of Decreasing Hispanic Representation

Mayor Johnny Isbell appears to be doing all he can to make his legacy in Pasadena end on a sour note of discrimination and intolerance.

Isbell is the driving force behind a controversial charter amendment that would change Pasadena's municipal redistricting scheme from eight single-member districts and one at-large mayor to six districts, two at-large seats, and an at-large mayor.

Such a scheme would have been prevented by the Voting Rights Act because of its retrogressive effect on Hispanic voting power in the city. However, because Section 3 of the VRA was tossed by the Supreme Court, there is no "pre-clearance" for Isbell's disenfranchisement effort.

The move is clearly a reaction to Pasadena's growing Hispanic population, which has increased from 48.2% in 2000 to 62.2% in 2010. Pasadena even has two Hispanic city council members, and Isbell himself faced a Hispanic challenger in his last campaign who ran on a platform of poor levels of services to the Hispanic areas of the city.

Now it appears that Isbell may be using City workers and funds to campaign for the ordinance. It's ethically problematic at best and a potential ethics violation at worse.

Read on for more.

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Federal Government Sues Texas Over SB 14 Voter ID Law


by: Edward Garris

Thu Aug 22, 2013 at 06:12 PM CDT

Texas had a bad week.  Tuesday, the Dallas County Commissioners Court voted to join Congressman Marc Veasey's federal lawsuit to block SB 14, Texas' Voter ID law, which he filed in June after the state announced that it would immediately implement the Voter ID law on the heels of the U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act.  

Today, the U.S. Department of Justice filed  its own lawsuit to block the Voter ID law, in the same federal court where Rep. Veasey's suit is currently docketed.

To see how the federal government is responding to the discriminatory law, read below the jump.  

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Dallas County Joins Marc Veasey in Fight Against Voter ID Law


by: Edward Garris

Tue Aug 20, 2013 at 03:30 PM CDT

The Voter ID battle is heating up, and now, it appears that Dallas County is jumping into the fray.  In June, we reported that Congressman Marc Veasey filed a lawsuit in federal district court to stop Texas' Voter ID law from going into effect.  Texas had passed an onerous Voter ID law during the 2011 legislative session.  Efforts to stop the law had been successful as the law could not be precleared under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.  

However, with the June decision of the U.S. Supreme Court gutting the Act, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and Secretary of State John Steen announced that SB 14, the Voter ID law, was the law of Texas and would be enforced promptly.  Veasey's suit to block those maneuvers immediately followed.

To see the position taken by Dallas County, read below the jump.

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Texas AG on Redistricting: We're Not Racist; Just Partisan


by: Edward Garris

Fri Aug 09, 2013 at 01:00 PM CDT

If you can't beat 'em, make 'em laugh?  Business Insider, at least, is getting a chuckle from the redistricting wars going on between U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott.  

The battle over redistricting continues in federal court in San Antonio.  As Michael Li observed soon after the Supreme Court's ruling in Shelby County earlier this summer, Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act still offered relief where Section 5 did not: jurisdictions such as Texas could be "bailed in" - that is, compelled through due process by the federal government to go through preclearance before any state laws affecting voting rights can become effective.

To see Texas' bold(?) strategy, read below the jump.

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Experts: Texas Possibly Subject to Preclearance Under Voting Rights Act; Suits Filed


by: Edward Garris

Fri Jul 12, 2013 at 04:00 PM CDT

June saw the gutting of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) by the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court collaterally attacked Section 5 of the VRA, which requires preclearance of voting and elections laws by states such as Texas, by striking down Section 4.  By declaring Section 4 unconstitutional, the Court made it impossible to apply the Section 5 preclearance requirement.

Initial reaction focused on the presumptive death of the VRA and the almost certain enactment and implementation of discriminatory voting laws, yet much of that initial analysis neglected Section 3 of the VRA.

To see how Section 3 could save the Voting Rights Act, read below the jump.

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José Rodríguez: Lessons learned - Vote!


by: Michael Hurta

Sun Jul 07, 2013 at 04:30 PM CDT


In today's second op-ed, Senator José Rodríguez reviews some of the big political news of the past couple of weeks, and he sees it all leading to the same lesson.

Whether it's a blow to the Voting Rights Act or an attempted attack on women's healthcare and freedom, Senator Rodríguez knows a clear remedy. After all, we are a democracy.

Read Senator Rodríguez's op-ed below!

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Bickerstaff: Austin Impact of Supreme Court Decision: Ruling on Section 5 of Voting Rights Act


by: Michael Hurta

Sun Jun 30, 2013 at 01:30 PM CDT

Today's op-ed features discusses the impact of Shelby County on our city's redistricting process.

Austin Impact of Supreme Court Decision
Ruling on Section 5 of Voting Rights Act ends need for federal approval of council districts
by Steve Bickerstaff

[Tuesday, June 25], the United States Supreme Court by a vote of 5-4 effectively struck down Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. For Austin, that means that federal approval of the 10 council districts being drawn by the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission will not be needed.

Technically, the Court left Section 5 in place, but unusable. The Court directly struck down the formula in Section 4(b) of the Act that determined which states and local jurisdictions nationwide were covered by the requirement of Section 5 that changes in election procedures and practices by those covered jurisdictions had to be submitted for preclearance. Section 5 was effectively left dangling inapplicable to any jurisdiction.

Contrary to some preconceptions, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 never actually named certain states or jurisdictions to which Section 5 applied. Instead, the Act established a coverage formula [Section 4(b) of the Act] based on the presence in the jurisdiction in 1964 of a test or device (e.g. literacy tests) limiting voting and a low total voter registration or turnout in the 1964 presidential election. Only certain jurisdictions nationwide were covered by this formula. Other jurisdictions (including Texas) were added in 1970 and 1975 by amendments supplementing the coverage formula, but also tying coverage to circumstances existing when the amendments were adopted.

Today's opinion for the Supreme Court (written by Chief Justice John Roberts) found that the coverage formula was unconstitutionally outdated. In his opinion, Chief Justice Roberts explained, "Congress could have updated the coverage formula ..., but did not do so. Its failure to act leaves us today with no choice but to declare Section 4(b) unconstitutional."

It is unclear whether the Department of Justice may be more aggressive in the future in trying to utilize other parts of the Act not tied to this coverage formula.

Read on for Impact on Austin's 2014 election.

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SB 14 Fight Continues; Veasey Files Suit; Voter ID Law Might Stall


by: Edward Garris

Thu Jun 27, 2013 at 01:00 PM CDT

Almost immediately after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) Tuesday, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and Secretary of State John Steen announced that SB 14, the Voter ID law, was the law of Texas and would be enforced promptly.  

The Department of Public Safety also announced Tuesday that they would begin compliance with SB 14 and accept applications for the "free" voter ID cards.  

To see why this might be premature, read below the jump.

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Texas' Discriminatory Voter ID Law to Take Effect "Immediately"


by: Nick Hudson

Wed Jun 26, 2013 at 09:25 AM CDT

The stringent Texas voter ID law Rick Perry  signed into law in 2011 is "immediately" in effect in light of Tuesday's decision by the US Supreme Court that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act is Unconstitutional, according to Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and Texas Secretary of State, John Steen.

 photo ScreenShot2013-06-26at90244AM.png

The voter ID law, which would have required display of photo identification before a voter was permitted to cast a vote, failed to gain "preclearance" last year. Judges had ruled that it was discriminatory and would impose "strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor." The State of Texas' own data showed that the law would have a disporportionate impact on hispanic voters.

Read the Secretary of State's Announcement, which includes a list of the identification required to vote, below the fold.

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A Chance for Progress in Farmers Branch: Ana Reyes Runs For District 1


by: Katherine Haenschen

Tue Apr 30, 2013 at 01:30 PM CDT

There's an election happening this May that progressives across Texas need to keep their eyes on, over in the northwest corner of Dallas County.

Farmers Branch, a community of 28,000 residents, is holding its first single-member districts municipal election, and stands a chance of reversing its recent history of making headlines for efforts to drive out the town's Hispanic population.

Last year, the city was forced to switch to single member districts after the at-large seats were found to violate the Voting Rights Act. The lawsuit successfully argued that Hispanics in Farmers Branch "had less opportunity than other members of the electorate to participate in the political process and to elect representatives of their choice," wrote Judge Sidney Fitzwater in his opinion.

This effort to change the system of municipal representation in Farmer's Branch comes six years after a highly divisive and ugly legal battle over an ordinance that targeted undocumented immigrants. In 2006, the Farmers Branch council became the first in Texas to pass an ordinance that fined landlords who rented to undocumented immigrants, allowed police to check immigration status, and mandated English as the official language of the city.

The ordinance was largely viewed as a response to the growth in Hispanic residents in the small, previously Anglo community. (Currently, 37% of residents are Hispanic.) It was the work of then-Council Member Tim O'Hare, who panicked over what he described as an influx of "less desirable people."

Opponents of the anti-immigrant measure petitioned for a special election to allow voters to decide whether the ordinance should be implemented or not. Unfortunately hate won the day, with 68% of voters supporting the referendum. The mayor at the time, Bob Phelps, opposed the measure, and had his windows broken as a result. He retired in 2008, and Farmers Branch elected O'Hare, father of the anti-immigrant ordinance, as Mayor.

In the ensuing years, the anti-immigrant ordinance has kept Farmers Branch in the news and in the courts, costing $5 million dollars of tax revenue in a short-sighted and divisive attempt to drive away Hispanic residents. The ordinance was blocked in state court, so national anti-immigrant activists helped the Farmers Branch council write new bigotry-mandating ordinances to withstand legal scrutiny. The ordinance was eventually struck down by the 5th Circuit as unconstitutional, since the ordinance's sole purpose was to exclude Latinos from the City of Farmers Branch.

Farmers Branch has been in the news for the last seven years for all of the wrong reasons. Now, the town has a chance to make some positive headlines.

This May is the first election under the single member districts map, and perhaps no contest better represents the potential positive outcome of these pitched legal battles than the race for District 1. Two candidates are now seeking to represent District 1, where 79% of the population is Latino. Ana Reyes, a native of the district, currently serves as District Manager for State Representative Rafael Anchia. William Capener, a self-described conservative and Tea Party activist, says he was inspired to run because of his opposition to single-member districts.  

I recently spoke with Reyes on the phone about her candidacy. Learn more about her campaign for Farmers Branch City Council below the jump.

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