Voters in Corpus Christi, Texas. (AP Photo/Corpus Christi Caller-Times, Rachel Denny Clow)

Lawsuit says Texas school district violating voting rights act by denying Latino voter representation

A lawsuit by The Bickel & Brewer Storefront claims the Irving Independent School district’s newly-adopted redistricting plan for electing school board trustees violates the Voting Rights Act and denies fair representation to Latino voters.

At issue is the planned implementation of a 5-2 electoral plan which means five trustees are elected, one hailing from each district and two more are elected at large city-wide. The lawsuit claims the plan will deny Hispanic voters the opportunity to meaningfully participate in the electoral process and elect representatives of their choice.

“The board represents and should be there to represent to the best interest of the public school system,” says William A. Brewer III, partner at Bickel & Brewer Storefront and lead counsel for plaintiff Manuel Benavidez, adding that 71 percent of the district’s children are Hispanic. Brewer says this plan ensures the Anglo community will continue to elect all members of the board because no district has been created with enough Latino voters to elect a Hispanic representative because of the polarized nature of the community.

The Irving School Independent School District had no comment, saying the board of trustees and superintendent have been advised by legal counsel not to say anything publicly.

The court action comes after a January 2010 decision ruled in favor of the district but left the door open for a future change to the system.

The judge wrote that after “the results of the 2010 Census are published, Benavidez may be able to obtain the relief he seeks – trustees elected from single-member districts – without the need for another lawsuit. The 2010 Census may confirm Benavidez’s contention that a majority Latino CVAP [“Citizen Voting Age Population”] district can be drawn.”

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The current lawsuit contends that rather than the school district redrawing districts using citizen voting age population, they used the Latino voting age population, which includes undocumented immigrants and does not allow for a district of majority Latino voters.

“In a polarized community like this you have to elect Latinos,” Brewer III says. “Unless you construct districts where Latinos are eligible to vote you will continue with this board, which is virtually all white.”

The pro bono Storefront has previously succeeded in challenging redistricting decisions concerning the Voting Rights Act.

In 2009, the Storefront secured a trial victory, also on behalf of Benavidez, proving that Irving’s City Council at-large elections were in violation of the Voting Rights Act and denied representation to Latinos. The City Council and mayor now are elected from six single-member districts and three at-large seats.

They also won a landmark victory in August 2012, when a judge ruled that the Dallas suburb of Farmers Branch, Texas, violated the Voting Rights Act by using an at-large voting system to elect its City Council. The victory resulted in the creation of five single-member districts, including one district with a Latino majority.

Brewer III says while he has seen actions like this before, he doesn’t believe it is the case everywhere.

“The bad news is it occurs too often, the good news is many other communities are willing to accept the change that is happening in their communities and has occurred in Texas,” he says.

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