This came in late Friday.
The U.S. Department of Justice has approved Harris County’s redistricting map for commissioner precincts, which has been the subject of a lawsuit from Latino activists since August.
The approval, known as “pre-clearance” under the Voting Rights Act, means the Department of Justice has determined the court’s plan complies with Section 5 of the act, said Gene Locke, a lawyer who advised the county on its map.
The activists’ lawsuit, which alleges the county’s plan illegally dilutes Hispanic voting power in the southeast commissioner precinct, Precinct 2, is ongoing under a section of the act intended to protect the voting power of minorities.
“Harris County’s plan came under criticism, but the commissioners were always careful to take all legal and policy considerations into account to craft a plan that meets federal law and allows Harris County to deliver a high level of service to its citizens,” Locke said. “Obviously I am pleased that the Department of Justice recognized the legality of Harris County’s plan and pre-cleared it.”
Chad Dunn, attorney for the plaintiffs, said the pre-clearance means that he will need to go before the court again to prove his case.
“We’re ready to do that,” Dunn said. “We think that the evidence already presented to the court demonstrates that the plan the county adopted should not be used moving forward, and we’re confident that that will continue to be the case.”
The lawsuit is about Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. The interim map drawn by Judge Vanessa Gilmore for the 2012 election will stay in place; since the lawsuit is mostly about the way Precinct 2 was drawn, and Precinct 2 Commissioner Jack Morman isn’t up for re-election until 2014, it’s a minimal change from the map the Commissioners drew. The crux of the dispute is that Precinct 2 as drawn by the Commissioners contains a larger Latino population than it did in the 2000 Census, but a smaller Latino population than it does right now. The plaintiffs argue that this constitutes retrogression – see Greg for the numbers. That’s for Judge Gilmore, and one presumes ultimately SCOTUS to decide.