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Pasadena voting rights case moves forward

Good news.

Pasadena City Council

A federal judge has denied Pasadena’s request to throw out a lawsuit challenging its controversial city council redistricting plan, which a group of Hispanic and Latino residents alleges dilutes the voting rights of the suburb’s growing minority population.

Judge Lee Rosenthal’s ruling Wednesday after a roughly two-hour court hearing means the case continues toward trial, which Rosenthal has tentatively set for November.

Wednesday’s session was one of the first significant hearings in the voting rights case, which has received national attention as emblematic of modern-day battles over the issue more than 50 years after the Voting Rights Act was passed.

The city had asked Rosenthal to rule on a motion for summary judgment in favor of the city’s 3-year-old method of electing the council, which called for races for six single-member seats and two at-large seats, stating that the plan allows the Hispanic minority population the opportunity to elect four members.

Rosenthal rejected that argument, stating that the new method creates a majority of Hispanic citizens of voting age in three districts, compared to four in the previous election system, when there were eight single-member districts.

This lawsuit was filed in 2014 and stemmed from the redistricting plan pushed by Mayor Johnny Isbell in 2013 that switched the city from having eight district members to six district members plus two At Large members. I’m glad to see this happen, but it shows the stark difference between a world in which preclearance exists and one where it doesn’t. This redistricting plan had been previously denied by the Justice Department but went forward after the Shelby ruling from SCOTUS. Nearly three years after Mayor Isbell’s plan was narrowly approved by voters, the lawsuit over it is finally cleared for trial, with an initial ruling likely months away and ultimate resolution farther out. It wouldn’t be a surprise if it is still being litigated two years from now, or five years from initial passage of the scheme. If that redistricting plan is eventually found illegal, that’s an awful lot of time for it to have been allowed to be in place, presumably causing harm, while the lawyers fight it out. If preclearance were still in place, none of this would have happened.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that this plan will be tossed. It’s always hard to say how litigation like this will play out. In the meantime, the Chron’s Mike Snyder recently published a series of stories relating to the fight over voting rights in Pasadena that is worth your time to read if you haven’t already done so:

With changes looming, Pasadena mayor launched attack against Latino council hopeful

Mayor: New Pasadena council system would have passed federal review

Voting rights case part of long history of Pasadena ethnic strife

I’ll be keeping an eye on this.

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