Fifth Circuit upholds Pasadena election order


Pasadena City Council

The Pasadena election system that a judge ruled violated the Voting Rights Act by discriminating against Hispanics cannot be used in the upcoming May council elections, a federal appeals court ruled Friday.

The Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a ruling by a lower court judge ordering the city to revert to a 2011 system using all single-member districts for the May 6 elections, when the entire city council and the mayor’s seat are on the ballot.

The expedited ruling – which came just two weeks before the deadline for candidates to file for office – is a blow to the city and its longtime mayor in a case being closely watched by voting rights advocates nationwide.

The decision Friday by a three-judge panel addresses only an attempt by Pasadena to temporarily halt the order for the May elections; the merits of the case and the judge’s ruling will be taken up later in full.

“This means all Pasadena voters will have a fair election on May 6,” said Nina Perales, vice president of litigation at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which filed the suit on behalf of a group of Hispanic voters. “All voters of all races will have a fair opportunity to elect their preferred candidates.”

Attorney C. Robert Heath, who represents Pasadena and Mayor Johnny Isbell, said Friday he wasn’t sure if the city would appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. Such an appeal would have to happen quickly or could jeopardize the city elections.

See here and here for the background. As I said in that previous update, the three-judge panel was quite conservative, so a unanimous ruling upholding Judge Rosenthal’s order is a pretty strong statement. I hope this will be the end of the line for litigation affecting this election – an appeal of the ruling on its merits, which will take place mush farther down the line, is of course to be expected – but there’s still a chance Pasadena could take a shot at SCOTUS. We’ll see.

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