By Lana Shadwick,

Pasadena, Texas, will be monitored by the Justice Department now that a federal judge has ruled that the City violated the Voting Rights Act by intentionally changing its city council districts to decrease Hispanic influence. The City, which the court ruled has a “long history of discrimination against minorities,” will have to get permission from the DOJ to make any changes in election policy going forward, otherwise known as pre-clearance.

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) filed the lawsuit on November 12, 2014 against the City of Pasadena, Mayor Johnny Isbell, and eight city council members. The five Hispanic plaintiffs were registered voters in the city.

The federal complaint alleged that the City had violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The Hispanic plaintiffs sought a declaration by the court that “the hybrid election system for Pasadena City Council intentionally discriminates against them on the basis of race and national origin.” They also pled that the U.S. Census American Community Survey estimate for 2008-2012 found that the citizen voting age population was 43% Hispanic.

Representatives for MALDEF say that Latino registered voters in the city just south of Houston had grown in the last 16 years from 30.6 percent (2000) to 42 percent (2016).

The judge issued a 113-page opinion after a trial before the bench (no jury) in December.

During the trial, the plaintiffs put on evidence to support their argument that the City decided to get rid of two neighborhood districts of the existing eight, and replace them with at-large seats, in order to diminish Hispanic voting power and influence. The lawyers exhibited evidence that the City was positioned to have five of the eight single-member districts decided by Hispanic voters. The eight-district system had existed since 1992 and was previously approved by the DOJ. In all, there were 16 witnesses who testified, and 468 exhibits were admitted into evidence.

U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal wrote, “In short, Pasadena’s elections are racially polarized. The City’s 2013 racially polarized vote in favor of the 6–2 redistricting map and plan and the Council’s 2014 vote to approve the change were narrowly decided. The effect was to dilute Latino voting strength. That effect was foreseeable and foreseen.”

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