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Farmers Branch single member Council district lawsuit appealed to SCOTUS

A lawsuit on behalf of three Hispanic plaintiffs in Farmers Branch to force the creation of single-member City Council districts, which was filed last April and dismissed in November, will be appealed to the Supreme Court after the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected their argument.

Valentine Reyes, Irene Gonzalez and Gary F. Garcia alleged the at-large City Council system in Farmers Branch diluted minority votes. They wanted to create single-member districts, in which a council member is elected to represent a specific section of the city.

Their attorneys argued before a federal court in Dallas that Hispanic citizens of voting age would form a majority of the voters in one of the proposed districts. On appeal, they contended that citizenship wasn’t a requirement in showing Latinos of voting age would make up the majority in the proposed district.

A three-judge panel at the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the argument. In a ruling Tuesday, the New Orleans-based panel insisted that the number of minorities of voting age in a proposed district must be citizens and needed to account for a majority of the total population of the district’s voting-age citizens.

“That’s really a change of how voting rights law has been interpreted in the past and would make a very bad precedent if it was adopted,” Garcia said.

Hmm. I’m not a lawyer, but I do know that the Census counts state prison inmates as residents of whatever county the prison happens to be in, and that this is used for the apportionment of legislative and Congressional districts, even though these prisoners may not have otherwise lived in that county and certainly can’t vote there. As such, I don’t buy the Court’s ruling – it strikes me as inconsistent with other established practices. Be that as it may, I would not hold out any hope for the Supreme Court to do anything about it. Not this Court, anyway.

It’s ironic that this ruling comes down at the same time as the final touches are being put on the court ruling that required the city of Irving to create single member Council districts. Makes you wonder why one city is not like the other.

On a side note, the nature of Farmers Branch’s City Council may not be changing, but that doesn’t mean that its politics are the same as it ever was. Consider this recent exchange in a debate over allowing expanded alcohol sales.

The measure to permit alcohol sales in a city known for its tight controls inspired contentious debate among residents and even a City Council that frequently votes as a bloc.

The new ordinance allows for the sale of alcohol at events in city parks by vendors or contractors who show they have liability insurance and a license with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission. The new ordinance covers beer, wine and even frozen margaritas.

After residents took to the podium, telephones and e-mail in opposition, Mayor Tim O’Hare said he opposed the measure because “a majority of our residents do not want this.”

O’Hare likened a yes vote to Washington politicians who push measures and “don’t listen to the people.”

Councilman David Koch took offense. “I think what you said at the end is not appropriate,” Koch said.

“Your attack at me is inappropriate,” O’Hare responded.

“I have the right to express my opinion after you express your opinion,” Koch retorted.

This was flagged for me by the proprietor of the DARE to LIVE in Farmers Branch blog – which you should be reading for a good perspective on that Dallas suburb – who says it’s “the first time I’ve heard of City Council members actually opposing the Mayor!” O’Hare, you may recall, is the guy who spearheaded the successful referendum to ban apartments from renting to undocumented immigrants; that ordinance, and a stricter one that preceded it, have been struck down or restrained by the courts as legal fees and other costs mount. Anything that helps knock O’Hare down a peg or two is fine by me.

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  1. […] last news I heard on that was that the dismissal was being appealed to the Supreme Court. I presume SCOTUS did not agree to hear that appeal, or we’d have heard something more by […]