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White voters sue Dallas County over claims of voter discrimination

I have four things to say about this.

Are white voters in Dallas County being discriminated against?

That question, which might cause some to chuckle, will be answered after a trial starting April 16 that could change the face of the voting rights struggle in America.

Four white residents are suing Dallas County, claiming that the current boundaries of county commissioner districts violate their voting rights. The case is believed to be one of the first in the nation where a group of whites is seeking protection under the Voting Rights Act.

The lawsuit foreshadows a potential turnabout in Texas’ and the nation’s racial politics. As Hispanics, blacks and other minorities close in on making America a country where minorities make up the majority, some whites are attempting to use civil rights laws to protect themselves from what they see as discrimination.

Dallas County, once dominated by white Republicans until demographic shifts paved the way for Democrats, is the ideal testing ground for such a case.

“There will be people who look up and say ‘oh, come on,’ but the facts are clear and it should not matter who is on the short end of the stick,” said Dallas lawyer Dan Morenoff, executive director of the Equal Voting Rights Institute. “The whole point is to assure state and local government can’t rig elections against races they don’t like.”

The white residents are backed by the Equal Voting Rights Institute. They are asking the court that the current Commissioners Court boundaries, approved in 2011, be redrawn to allow white residents to elect the commissioner of their choice.

[…]

Redistricting experts say the plaintiffs will have a hard time prevailing over the county. The Voting Rights Act, in part, protects victims of historical and systemic discrimination. White voters don’t fall in that class. A challenge to the maps on grounds that the white residents’ constitutional rights were violated has already faded.

“That’s a pretty high hurdle to overcome,” said Michael Li, an election law expert and senior counsel for the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program at New York University. “There hasn’t been a history of discrimination against white voters in Dallas County.”

Justin Levitt, associate dean for research at Loyola University in Los Angeles, agreed.

“You have to prove that the government intentionally took action against people because of their race. That is going to be much harder to demonstrate,” he said. “The case is going to turn on whether there is a history of discrimination against Anglos or present-day signs of discrimination.”

[…]

The lawsuit argues that the political clout of white voters has been purposefully diminished. Whites in Dallas County overwhelmingly vote for Republicans, the suit says, while blacks and Hispanics tend to vote for Democrats. The 4-to-1 Democrat-to-Republican ratio is a sign that whites have become disenfranchised, the suit says.

“The plaintiffs’ view is that a map was drawn on the basis of race to make sure a group couldn’t elect the candidate of their choice,” Morenoff said. “We think the law is pretty clear that it’s illegal. We’re making the same arguments that plaintiffs have made in Texas the past few decades. The law protects racial minorities whoever they are.”

But a white majority exists on the Commissioners Court even though Hispanics represent the largest racial group in the county. According to the U.S. Census, Hispanics make up 39 percent of the county population. The county is 33 percent white and 22 percent black.

[County Judge Clay] Jenkins, [Commissioner Theresa] Daniel and [Commissioner Mike] Cantrell are white. Daniel is a Democrat and Cantrell is a Republican. There is one black commissioner, Democrat John Wiley Price, and one Hispanic commissioner, Garcia, a Democrat.

The plaintiffs are arguing that white conservatives were not able to elect their candidate of choice.

Whites make up 48 percent of Dallas County voters, but essentially elect 25 percent (one commissioner) of the court, the lawsuit states.

Many white voters were packed into precincts controlled by Daniel, Price and Garcia. And others had their votes wasted after being packed into Cantrell’s Precinct 2, the lawsuit says.

Lawyers for the county disagreed in a court filing.

“Plaintiffs’ amended complaint fails to allege or demonstrate how the currently elected County Commissioners are not the candidate of choice of Anglo voters,” they wrote. “Even if the five commissioners are the candidates of choice of African-American and Latino voters, that fact does not preclude those Commissioners from also being the candidates of choice of Anglo voters.”

The trial is expected to take four days.

Li, the election law expert who spent 10 years in Dallas as a lawyer for Baker Botts, says redistricting cases like the one in Dallas County could evolve into referendums on partisan gerrymandering. Two such cases are before the U.S. Supreme Court.

“In the future, instead of race-based claims, they may claim that there was partisan gerrymandering,” Li said.

1. Good luck with that.

2. There are only four commissioners per county, plus a County Judge, so the result of one election can have a dramatic change to the partisan ration – you can go from 50-50 to 75-25 overnight, for example. Add in the County Judge and a “balanced” Court will be 60-40 one way or the other. My point here is that there’s only so much precision one can achieve.

3. Also, too: Harris County is at least as Democratic as Dallas is Republican, and at least as non-Anglo as Dallas is. Yet Harris County Commissioners Court has four Anglo Republicans and one African-American Democrat. Commissioners precincts were also redrawn following the 2010 election in which Jack Morman ousted Sylvia Garcia to protect the most vulnerable of the Anglo commissioners. Be careful what you’re wishing for here, Republicans. And yes, there was a lawsuit filed here over that, and the plaintiffs lost. Anyone think these folks in Dallas have a better claim than the plaintiffs in Harris County did?

4. Too bad the Supreme Court kneecapped the Voting Rights Act, huh? Maybe casting this as a partisan gerrymandering claim will help, assuming SCOTUS finds a remedy for that. In which case, again I say to be careful what you ask for, Republicans.

A copy of the lawsuit is here, and the county’s response is here; they are also embedded in the story. As always, I welcome feedback from the lawyers out there.

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7 Comments

  1. Manny Barrera says:

    Trumpkins/Republicans continuing to rally, with their dog whistles, all their racists/bigot supporters.

    Trump is a puppet of the Russians and his supporters are enablers.

  2. C.L. says:

    And que a comment from Bill Daniels in 3, 2, 1….

  3. Flypusher says:

    I feel that I am discriminated against in the way the legislative districts are drawn. Not by race, or even party, but because the district is deliberately drawn to be non-competitive. So it’s currently drawn to go R, but I’d say the same about the D advantage district I once lived in. A Congresscritter who doesn’t have to work up a bit of a sweat to get re-elected is a Congresscritter who blows off town hall meetings and other contact with constituents.

  4. Bill Daniels says:

    “….the facts are clear and it should not matter who is on the short end of the stick,” said Dallas lawyer Dan Morenoff, executive director of the Equal Voting Rights Institute.”

    “The case is going to turn on whether there is a history of discrimination against Anglos or present-day signs of discrimination.”

    All these folks need to do is drag up some affirmative action court cases to prove a history of discrimination against wypipo. Good for them, and I hope they win their case.

  5. Manny Barrera says:

    What can I say if those white Republicans are too stupid to convince non-white voters that they represent their values, than they deserve to lose power. 50 years of control seems long enough to prove what they stood for. They stand for corruption, they voted for the puppet that sits at the White House. The idiot didn’t even know the name of the house where he was placed by Putin.

    “I also want to thank the White House Historical Association, […] and everybody who works to keep this incredible house, or building, or whatever you want to call it — because there really is no name for it. It’s special. And we keep it in tip-top shape. We call it sometimes “tippy-top shape,” and it’s a great, great place.” https://www.thecut.com/2018/04/donald-trump-white-house-easter-egg-roll-struggles.html

    Maybe he is not an idiot and was high on coke or something?

  6. Mainstream says:

    I am confused why this lawsuit, filed in 2015, is just now getting attention.

    While theoretically a setting might exist in which white voters are systematically shut out of the electoral process on account of race, these districts are fairly compact and diverse. I think it would be hard to show that white voters are cohesive in their political choices. Certainly whites do not vote Republican at the 95% level that black voters support Democrats. And in a multi cultural and racial world with Asian and Latinos mixed in, I am not sure the plaintiffs can show that other groups systematically refuse to support the candidates Anglos prefer.

    It may be true that black politicians resort to racial appeals, including photographs on signs to identify the race of the candidate, and appeals to elect from “our community”, but I suspect partisan identification is more powerful than race in predicting vote outcomes in a general election. The racial appeals have more power within a Democrat primary, as in Harris County, where black judicial and countywide candidates routinely defeat white opponents.

    I cannot imagine this lawsuit succeeding.

    But I would be interested to know in what way the Anglo voters claim that the current commissioner court is “unresponsive” to their interests as whites. I find that hard to imagine.

  7. Manny Barrera says:

    I find it amazing, Mainstream, that “Black politicians resort to racial appeals”. It was not to long ago when the Whites would should photos of them and their opponents when mailing to White voters, here in the Houston area, it is still done. I remember when Allen Blakemore did a piece on Khan, but Republicans still do it https://www.dallasnews.com/news/politics/2008/10/23/mailer-birds-of-a-feather-and

    http://www.texasconservativereview.com/vol2n16.html

    The Republicans have been using racial appeal to white racists since Ronald Reagan. http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/history/2013/12/linda_taylor_welfare_queen_ronald_reagan_made_her_a_notorious_american_villain.html

    And the Russian puppet is appealing to what group, Mainstream? http://www.newsweek.com/trumps-full-list-racist-comments-about-immigrants-muslims-and-others-779061