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LULAC files that lawsuit to end Houston City Council At Large districts

We’ve been waiting for this.

The League of United Latin American Citizens on Monday filed its long-anticipated lawsuit against the city of Houston, seeking to get rid of at-large City Council seats that it says leave Hispanic residents with insufficient representation at City Hall.

The group, one of the largest Hispanic civil rights organizations in the country, first announced plans to take legal action against the city in January.

While 45 percent of Houston residents are Hispanic, Robert Gallegos of District I is the only Hispanic person holding a seat on the 16-member body, even though the city previously created two other Hispanic-opportunity districts, H and J.

The federal lawsuit aims to replace the city’s five at-large seats, which represent voters citywide, with single-member seats dedicated to certain geographic areas. Houston’s current election system has created barriers to Hispanic representation and deprived hundreds of thousands of minority Houstonians of their voting rights guaranteed by law, the complaint says.

“The Latino voters of Houston have waited for fair redistricting plans. They have waited for years for the city of Houston to end its long relationship with ‘at-large’ districts that dilute the electoral strength of Hispanics,” the lawsuit says. “The time has come to replace this old election system that functions solely to dilute the power of Houston’s Latino voters.”

Houston City Council was comprised of all at-large positions until 1980, when it switched to a mix of district seats and five at-large seats. The change led to more diverse council bodies and better representation of minority voters, according to the complaint. Still, only four with Spanish surnames have been elected to one of the five at-large districts since then because Latino-preferred candidates rarely do well in citywide races, it says.

While many local Latino candidates also face other challenges, such as a lack of resources, the council structure remains a major hurdle for them, according to Jeronimo Cortina, an associate professor in political science at University of Houston.

“When you look into political science literature, you’ll find that at-large seats tend to decrease the likelihood for minority candidates to win an election,” he said.

It is, however, not sufficient to simply look at the absence of Latino city council members, Cortina said. To substantiate LULAC’s claim that Houston is in violation of the Voting Rights Act, the organization would have to prove that Latino Houstonians have been acting as a cohesive voting bloc but unable to elect a candidate of their choice.

“It would take a lot of time and a lot of data,” Cortina said. “But the fact is that Latinos have been running and Latinos are not winning these elections.”

See here, here, and here for the background, and here for a copy of the lawsuit. I’ve said all I have to say in that first link. Whatever happens with this lawsuit happens, and I’ll be fine with it. Courts have ordered cities like Pasadena and Farmers Branch to incorporate City Council districts in recent years, but those places began with all-At Large systems, and they were much more clearly discriminatory in my opinion. They were also decided in a time before SCOTUS went all in on destroying the Voting Rights Act. This could go either way, and I’ll be surprised if there is a temporary restraining order in place to block the use of the current Council map for the 2023 election. After that, we’ll see. The Trib has more.

Chron story on the proposed new City Council map

Remember, you heard it here first.

Houston’s proposed City Council maps for 2023 elections make only minor changes to district boundaries near Rice University, Freedmen’s Town and parts of downtown.

Overall, less than 3% of Houston’s 2.3 million residents will change districts under the proposal, which is designed to balance district populations based on 2020 Census data, while complying with city requirements and the Voting Rights Act, according to City Demographer Jerry Wood.

By law, none of the 11 districts should vary by more than 10 percent from the average district population of approximately 209,000 residents. This means that Houston’s three most populous districts – Districts C, D and G – will lose some of their lands. Meanwhile, Districts H, I and J will need to expand.

“Unlike redistricting for legislative districts, there’s a lot more identification with a neighborhood that the civic leaders have and also the relationship that they establish with their council members,” Wood said. “So the desire is to create as little disruption as possible.”


In recent months, the public has repeatedly requested the city to keep super neighborhoods together, Wood said, something that demographers did not have in mind when initially dividing up the population.

The proposal managed to move Braeburn, a super neighborhood on the southwest side, into a single district and bring together most of Eastex – Jensen, one in north Houston. But Wood said he was not able to unite Greater Heights in north central or South Belt on the southeast side.

“Sometimes there are requests that simply are impossible,” Wood said.

The city has hired a law firm in anticipation of legal challenges. For one, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), one of the largest Hispanic civil rights organizations in the country, has promised to sue the city over what its advocates characterize as a gross underrepresentation of Latinos on the City Council.

The lawsuit hopes to replace the city’s five at-large seats, which represent voters citywide, with single-member seats, which cover a certain geographical area. Sergio Lira, a Houston-based leader with LULAC, said his team is on track to file the lawsuit later this month.

“We anticipated that there would not be any major changes to the maps this time and that the city was not going to disrupt things too much,” Lira said. “It’s going to take a lawsuit in order to change the system.”

See here for my post on the new map, along with the schedule for public hearings, and here for my post about the promise of a lawsuit to ditch the At Large Council seats. Several cities have moved partly or fully away from At Large Council systems to all-district or hybrid systems in recent years, some with more of a fuss about it than others – Austin, Pasadena, Irving, Farmers Branch. It’s hard to say how litigation on this matter might go in this current climate, but on the other hand if the city lost in a federal district court it’s not clear to me that they’d pursue an appeal. This is an excellent place to get caught making dumb predictions, so I’ll stop myself before I go too far. I’ll wait and see what happens when LULAC files their complaint. In the meantime, attend one of those hearings if this interests you.

Spring Branch ISD lawsuit

I’m late to this, but better late than never/

A former candidate for the Spring Branch ISD school board has filed a lawsuit alleging the district’s election policies are in violation of national laws against voting discrimination.

In her complaint, Virginia Elizondo, a Spring Branch ISD parent who ran for a position on the board in 2015 and 2021, claims that the district’s system of at-large elections violates the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The complaint was filed by attorney Barry Abrams of Blank Rome LLP with the U.S. District Court’s Southern District of Texas, Houston Division on June 18.

Specifically, it cites the clause in the Voting Rights Act that “prohibits enforcement of any voting qualification, prerequisite to voting, standard, practice, or procedure that results in the denial or abridgement of the right to vote on account of race, color, or language minority status.”

Unlike nearby Houston ISD, which uses zoned elections where each of the nine trustees are elected from a geographic zone, Spring Branch ISD uses at-large elections for each of its seven trustees are elected by the entire district and represent the entire district. Several local districts, such as Humble ISD, use at-large elections.

Elizondo’s lawsuit seeks a court injunction prohibiting Spring Branch ISD from using its at-large system of voting.

The complaint states that “Dr. Elizondo (who has a Doctorate in Education from the University of Houston) has standing to seek relief in this suit as a minority district voter who is experiencing vote dilution because of the SBISD at-large system for electing its Board of Trustees.”

It also cites the fact that, according to demographic information from the Texas Education Agency, of the 33,288 that were enrolled in Spring Branch ISD, 19,335, or about 58 percent were Latino or Hispanic whereas white students made up about 27 percent of the student body.

The complaint claims that the current at-large method of electing trustees “results in the district’s Latino and minority citizens having less opportunity than other members to participate in the electoral process and to elect representatives of their choice.”

I have a copy of the lawsuit here; it was filed in June, and as far as I can tell there has been no action relating to it since. I touched on some of these issues when I wrote about Elizondo’s candidacy in the May election. The SBISD Board of Trustees has posted this response, and a recent school board meeting featured some very rowdy residents who wanted something more forceful. Note the featured photo at the top of the story, with the sign from the protesters that says “Don’t HISD My SBISD”, which says quite a bit more than perhaps the sign holders intended.

I’ve written quite a bit in the past decade or so about single member districts and the places where litigation has been waged to implement them as a way of getting any kind of representation for communities of color. Since I’ve been following this issue, cities like Irving and Farmers Branch and most recently Pasadena were ordered to switch to single member districts or a hybrid system; in all cases, the change has resulted in more people of color being elected, often the first ever people of color elected to the respective City Councils. That’s what is at stake in Spring Branch, though the complaint and the SMD proponents are also advocating for more early voting locations on the north side of I-10 where more than 50% of SBISD students reside, and a robust voter registration program in all SBISD high schools. I expect this will take a couple of years to get to a final resolution, but in the meantime there’s a lot that local activists can do to persuade the existing Board to take action on those other items.

The At Large trend

From Think Progress:

Pasadena City Council

Yakima, WA is one-third Latino, but a Latino candidate has not been elected to the city council for almost 40 years. Santa Barbara, CA is 38 percent Latino, but only one Latino has been elected to its council in the last 10 years. And Pasadena, TX is 43 percent Hispanic, but the ethnic group is not even close to being proportionately represented in the city government.

All three cities have been or are currently being sued for allegedly using discriminatory at-large voting systems, a voter dilution tactic that has been recently and frequently employed against Hispanic voters. In an at-large system, every city resident votes for each member of the governing body and the city does not divide voters into districts.

As the Latino population grows across the country, cities have employed at-large voting to dilute the Latino vote and maintain white control of local governing bodies. Instead of allowing each district to elect its own representative, an at-large system means that unless Hispanic populations reach a majority in the entire city, they will have no influence in electing their local members of government. According to Fair Vote, at-large systems allow 50 percent of voters to control 100 percent of seats, typically resulting in racially homogeneous elected bodies. The tactic used to be popular in the South to discriminate against neighborhoods with large African American communities but is now targeting a new threat: Latinos.

Recently, a court in Washington struck down the city of Yakima’s at-large voting system — whose representation is elected by the city as a whole rather than by specific districts — ruling that it was discriminatory and violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

Lawsuits against cities attempting to dilute the Hispanic vote are gaining traction as more and more end with court orders and settlements that favor the plaintiffs, said Laughlin McDonald, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project.

“A lawsuit like [Yakima] will clearly have a very important impact,” McDonald told ThinkProgress. “This was the first Section 2 challenge to an at-large system that was brought in Washington state and already the Hispanic population in Pasco, Washington has approached the city council there and asked them to adopt a single member district plan to replace the at-large system.”

Kathleen Taylor, the executive director of Washington’s ACLU branch, said the city of Pasco is likely to change its system before it is sued and ends up in a similar position to Yakima.

After ruling in favor of the plaintiffs in the suit against Yakima, the judge adopted the ACLU’s voting plan, which called for an elimination of the at-large system. The ACLU is also asking Yakima for more than $2.8 million in legal fees and expenses. “If you bring a lawsuit now, these jurisdictions understand that if they lose, they will be liable for a substantial amount of costs and fees,” McDonald said. “That will have an important impact on their decision to settle these cases.”

Last month, the city of Santa Barbara, CA partially settled a similar suit, alleging its voting system violated the California Voting Rights Act. The city is currently drawing six new districts with citizen input to ensure that the Hispanic population, which makes up nearly 40 percent of the city, is not discriminated against. The lead plaintiff told the University of California, Santa Barbara’s Daily Nexus that the city is saving more than $2 million by settling the litigation for around $600,000 and not allowing it to go to trial, where the plaintiffs would likely prevail.

Because California has a state voting rights law, it “facilitates this type of challenge,” said Thomas Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. As a result, he said we will see a lot of settlements and moves away from at-large systems in California.

Yeah, we don’t have that in Texas, and with the Congress we have now, we won’t have it again nationally any time soon. I don’t have a problem with At Large districts per se, but there’s no mistaking the intent here. One only need look at a city like Farmers Branch to see what the effect can be when a more inclusive Council plan is adopted. We can also look to Pasadena, where we have an opportunity this May to minimize the damage being done. Ultimately, changes will have to be made at a higher level to prevent this kind of shenanigans at the local level.

SCOTUS declines to hear Farmers Branch appeal

By all rights, this story should now be at an end.

When will they learn?

The U.S. Supreme Court brought closure Monday to the seven-year legal battle in Farmers Branch over a local ordinance that sought to ban landlords from renting property to people who are in the U.S. unlawfully.

The high court declined to review a lower-court ruling that declared the ordinance unconstitutional.

The measure was never enforced, but it fractured the suburb of about 29,000 residents and saddled its budget with more than $6.1 million in legal expenses. Bills of more than $2 million are pending. Payment was stalled by three different appeals.

“After more than seven years of litigation, during which the city lost at every stage, it is time for Farmers Branch to let go of its immigration ordinance,” said Nina Perales, vice president of litigation at the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, one of the firms that sued the city over the ordinance.

Perales said the Supreme Court sent “a strong message that local immigration laws are unconstitutional and hurt cities because they waste precious resources and undermine community relationships.”

Junie Smith, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit and a former Farmers Branch City Council member, said she was celebrating the decision. “This is a two wine-cooler night,” she said.
Smith said she hopes it heals her city. “What hopes do I have for the city? Unity and a desire to move forward as a community.”

The persistence of the fight in Farmers Branch brought the suburb national celebrity. Its outside counsel, Kris Kobach of Kansas City, has litigated on behalf of other cities around the nation to test the power of local governments to discourage illegal immigration.

Kobach said that the legal fight is over.

“Many states and cities are still looking at ways they can discourage illegal immigration and reduce the costs. It remains a very live issue, and we are obviously very disappointed the Supreme Court didn’t step in on this,” said Kobach, who worked on the case for Dallas-based Strasburger and Price, which was retained by the city.

The Supreme Court also declined Monday to resurrect an ordinance in Hazleton, Pa. That ordinance, which was struck down by an appellate court, would have banned immigrants who are in the U.S. unlawfully from renting housing.


In addition to the $6.1 million it spent through February on expenses related to the illegal immigration lawsuits, the city spent about $850,000 to fight two voting rights suits.

The city estimates award of pending bills from opposing lawyers to be in the $1.5 million to $2 million range, said Charles Cox, Farmers Branch’s managing director of finance and city administration. That decision will be made by a federal judge.

Meanwhile, Bill Brewer of Bickel & Brewer said, “This is over. … Our hope is that the city will close this unfortunate chapter in its history and begin to embrace the changing demographics of the community – as part of a more inclusive and dynamic future.”

See here for all of my obsessive blogging about Farmers Branch. I too hope that the city will move on and pursue more just and productive endeavors. Ending their association with a hateful grifter like Kris Kobach would be an excellent first step. Hair Balls has more.

Farmers Branch still hasn’t learned

There’s stubborn, there’s mulishly stubborn, and then there’s Farmers Branch.

When will they learn?

The City Council is not ready to give up its fight to ban immigrants in the U.S. illegally from renting in the city.

The council voted 3-2 Tuesday night to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court its rental ordinance’s latest failure in court.

The chamber audience erupted in applause — with some jumping from their seats — following the vote.

Council members Jeff Fuller, Ben Robinson and Harold Froehlich voted to appeal. Ana Reyes and Kirk Connally voted against it.

Before the vote, the city’s outside attorney, Michael Jung, agreed to handle the appeal at no cost, at Fuller’s request. Fuller noted that $4 million had already been paid to Jung and his Strasburger & Price law firm.

“I want to stop spending,” Fuller said.

The fight has cost the city about $6 million in legal fees for court suits, and more than $2 million in bills were expected to be presented to the courts for the city to pay by the law firms that had prevailed against the city. But the decision to appeal puts that on hold, pending the outcome by the nation’s highest court.

William A. Brewer III, partner at Bickel & Brewer Storefront and counsel for some of the plaintiffs, said in a prepared statement that the City Council “seems incapable of reading the handwriting on the wall — this ordinance is unconstitutional.”

“It is unfortunate that the Farmers Branch City Council has decided to continue a pursuit that many view as costly and ill-advised.”

Some lessons just have to be learned the hard way. It was just a month ago that the Fifth Circuit spiked the latest appeal from Farmers Branch, this time with the full court reconsidering the original three-judge panel ruling in light of the SCOTUS decision on Arizona’s “papers, please” law. I have no idea why Farmers Branch City Council think SCOTUS might be willing to take this question up again, but I suppose it at least offers them the opportunity to inconvenience the law firm that’s beaten them like a pinata every step of the way. The good news is that the FB Council is now 40% less stupid with the addition of Ana Reyes and Kirk Connally, but clearly there’s still work to do to bring them into the light.

Farmers Branch loses again

Same story, next chapter.

When will they learn?

The Farmers Branch ordinance barring people in the U.S. illegally from renting in the city is unconstitutional, an appeals court ruled for the second time Monday.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans said the ordinance encroached on the federal government’s authority.

Monday’s decision ended the city’s second appeal to the court, which had upheld the lower court’s ruling last year.

The city asked for a rehearing after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down parts of an Arizona law.

In its majority opinion Monday, the judges were critical of Farmers Branch’s ordinance, which would have required all renters to obtain licenses proving they were in the U.S. legally.

Judges also found fault with the city’s plan to fine or revoke the renters’ licenses of landlords who leased to immigrants without permits.

“The ordinance not only criminalizes occupancy of a rented apartment or single-family residence, but puts local officials in the impermissible position of arresting and detaining persons based on their immigration status without federal direction and supervision,” the court said.

Through May, the suburb of about 29,000 residents had spent roughly $6 million since 2006 on legal expenses related to its fight against illegal immigration.

The law firm that sued the city over the rental ordinance said it plans to submit additional bills to Farmers Branch that are likely to top $2 million.

See here for the previous update. I was a little nervous after the court ordered a review of the original ruling to take into account the SCOTUS decision on the Arizona “papers, please” law, but I’m glad to see that fear was unfounded. The question at this point is whether Farmers Branch will finally accept that it has learned a very expensive lesson and quit adding to the tab. It’s not yet clear what they will do, but at least now their City Council has a voice of reason on it.

Monday evening, [new Council member Ana] Reyes praised the appeals court’s decision on the rental ordinance and said she wanted the city to drop the issue.

“The anti-immigration ordinance was outside of our local jurisdiction,” she said. “It is unconstitutional. This issue has been extremely divisive and costly for the citizens of Farmers Branch. It’s now time to move forward and reinvest our residents’ hard-earned tax dollars back into our community.”

CM Reyes of course is the first Hispanic member of Farmers Branch’s City Council, elected after they lost a different lawsuit to enact single member districts. It will be completely fitting if that development finally leads to Farmers Branch being persuaded to quit illegally and expensively trying to persecute a segment of its population.

Getting out the “hard-to-motivate Latino vote” in Farmers Branch

Great story about Ana Reyes, the first Hispanic person elected to City Council in Farmers Branch, in the first election after a lawsuit forced the city to adopt single-member Council districts, and how she actually got elected.

CM Ana Reyes

“What happened here is what helped us get off the couch,” Ana Reyes said, inside a childhood home filled with landscape paintings by her father, Antonio.

Insult after insult hurled at Hispanics, from the ordinance to public taunts about catching “illegals,” would eventually lead to a campaign directive of “pound, pound, pound.”

That would be the sound the candidate and her campaign team made as they knocked multiple times on nearly every door in a newly carved City Council district, a so-called Hispanic opportunity district because of the concentration of U.S. citizens of voting age.


Ana Reyes, 39, credits her mother for demanding she attend council sessions in 2006.

But she said political consultant Jeff Dalton and his firm Democracy Toolbox propelled success forward.

“The Hispanic component of the vote has always been the brick wall,” said Dalton, who works exclusively for Democrats or in nonpartisan municipal elections.

In fact, in the 2012 presidential race, Hispanics punched way below their weight with a turnout of only 48 percent. The top-performing group, black voters, participated at a 66 percent rate, according to newly released U.S. Census Bureau data.

The political strategist said he methodically plotted data on the likelihood of a Reyes vote on a scale of 1 to 5 through canvassing. At one point, Dalton’s data showed Reyes in a dead heat with her opponent, William Capener, a print shop manager with ties to the local tea party.

Canvassing intensified. Ana Reyes walked the entire District 1 three times, including on election day. Others followed in her steps until the nearly 1,800 voters in the district had received about a dozen visits.

“Her brother walked,” Dalton said. “Her sister walked. Her mother walked. There was an excitement level generated by that. It was like pound, pound, pound.”

Nadia Khan-Roberts, a Spanish teacher living in Farmers Branch, volunteered for the Reyes get-out-the-vote effort. One man told Khan-Roberts: “Todos estos politicos no hacen nada y ella va a ser lo mismo. All politicians do nothing, and she’ll be the same.”

Khan-Roberts countered, “With that attitude nothing will change. The baby that cries the loudest gets the milk.”

A prayer group of women dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe even met weekly at the local Mary Immaculate Catholic Church.

On May 11, Ana Reyes won with 62 percent of the vote. Dalton, the consultant, believes that half of the Hispanic vote was “low-propensity,” or hard to-budge, and hadn’t voted in more than one of the last five elections.

“Something special happened,” said Dalton, who wants to replicate the strategy on a larger scale.

See here for the background. I trust we all see the parallels between Reyes’ victory and the future success or failure of Battleground Texas. Good candidates, direct contact with voters, giving voters compelling reasons to vote that connect with their daily lives – it’s not rocket science, but it is hard work, and it’s going to be a long-term process. But victories build momentum, and they provide paths forward. What worked for Ana Reyes in Farmers Branch can and will work elsewhere, if we learn from her experience and apply those lessons to other races. And when someone tells you it can’t be done, point to Farmers Branch and Council Member Ana Reyes and tell them oh yes it can.

And then get back to work, because the fight isn’t over when the ballots are counted. The fight is just beginning.

During her 2013 campaign, on three occasions, motorists parked outside her home in a Valwood Parkway neighborhood where residents know each other’s cars.

Ana Reyes went outside to knock on the driver’s window and ask if she could help. He said he’d run out of gas, she said. She went to get a gas container, but when she returned the man was gone.

In another instance, she took a photo of the license plate, and the driver of that vehicle never returned.

But Ana Reyes said her experience “does not compare to what Elizabeth Villafranca and other Latino candidates experienced.”

Villafranca, a Farmers Branch restaurateur who ran for City Council in 2009, faced slurs and what she called stalking. Ruben Rendon, a school psychologist who ran for office in 2008, was called “an illegal.” Rendon, who was born in Texas, now says, “All of this was so stupid.”

Candidate Reyes visited with a Dallas County election manager to ask about harassment prevention. She found out the department’s responsibility was limited to a constricted perimeter near polling machines.

The campaign took its own action.

“We hired constables to make sure order was maintained,” she said. “We are not going to tolerate it anymore.”


Farmers Branch Mayor Bill Glancy said he hoped the new council members, who include Kirk Connally, a 73-year-old retiree who beat an incumbent, would want “good things for the city.”

But regarding Ana Reyes, he said, “You never know what someone is until they are in office. There is campaigning and then there is serving.”

Ana Reyes is now an elected official. That gives her power, but it doesn’t mean respect will follow. The appalling behavior that Reyes and those who went before her in Farmers Branch had to put up with isn’t going to just disappear, and neither will the people who exhibited such behavior. There will be plenty of people rooting for her to fail, and working to undermine her. If Mayor Glancy’s attitude is any indication, some of those people will be her colleagues. Ana Reyes made history by winning this race, but there’s a lot more of the story to be written.

Ana Reyes makes history in Farmers Branch

I didn’t pay much attention to Saturday’s elections, since there was nothing on the ballot for me and there were few races of interest around the state. One place where there were races worth watching was in Farmers Branch, and the news from there was excellent.

CM Ana Reyes

Ana Reyes became the first Hispanic to win a seat on the Farmers Branch City Council in the new District 1 after historic single-member district balloting forced on the city by a federal judge. The 39-year-old Reyes maintained her 2-to-1 ratio in balloting throughout the night.

Reyes, the district manager of state Rep. Rafael Anchía, beat 48-year-old William Capener, a print shop manager with Tea Party ties.

In another upset, incumbent David Koch, a 51-year-old attorney, lost his re-election bid to 73-year-old Kirk Connally, a retiree who had served on the planning and zoning board for years. Koch fought hard against the voting rights charges and led an effort to appeal the lower court judge’s order. Connally had said he was fed up with all the spending on litigation.

“I’m excited and excited about Kirk Connally’s win as well,” Reyes said in a phone interview. “Together, we can do great things and move forward.”

Single-member districts generally make it easier for minorities to gain political position in venues where there’s been polarization in vote patterns. Voting rights suits have increased in North Texas as Latinos challenge governments with at-large electoral systems that result in all-white city councils and school boards.

The Justice Department sent election monitors to the city on Saturday — for their fourth poll watch since 2007.

Farmers Branch, a suburb of 29,000, has been a fount for litigation since 2006 when it passed an ordinance to bar immigrants in the U.S. illegally from rental housing. The measure led to shouting matches inside and outside of council sessions and a chain of litigation that has cost the city nearly $6 million. A federal judge ruled the latest version of the rental ordinance was unconstitutional and it has yet to be enforced. The ordinance is on appeal.

The acrimony seeded Reyes’ interest in politics in Farmers Branch, where she has lived nearly all her life. She is the daughter of two immigrants from Mexico. The naturalized citizens, Antonio and Maria Reyes, voted for their daughter in the historic election. They were also two of the ten plaintiffs that sued the city of Farmers Branch.

Saturday night, Maria Reyes said she was “very content” with election results. She never hesitated in being a part of the civil rights suit, she said. “We had no representation and now we do.”

Reyes’s campaign treasurer was Amelia Baladez, another of the plaintiffs in the voting rights suit. One of her biggest donors was Bill Brewer, a Dallas corporate attorney whose pro-bono affiliate launched the successful suit against the city of Farmers Branch. The firm, the Bickel & Brewer Storefront, also sued the city over the rental ordinance, inspiring one councilman to criticize the law firm for “bullying.”

[Saturday night], Brewer said, “Farmers Branch is so obviously polarized in voting among the races. It was a suit that needed to be brought. She is going to be great councilwoman.”

BOR had a preview of the race and a brief chat with CM-elect Reyes that you should read. Farmers Branch has been a cesspool of racism and xenophobia these past few years, spending millions of dollars in pointless efforts to punish people who committed no crime. The elections of Reyes and Connally are the first step towards draining that swamp and getting Farmers Branch back on the road to productivity and good stewardship of its resources. Congratulations to Ana Reyes and Kirk Connally, and best of luck to both of you on Farmers Branch City Council.

Single member districts for Farmers Branch

Another long battle comes to an end.

When will they learn?

A Dallas federal judge has directed Farmers Branch to implement single-member City Council districts after the U.S. Justice Department signed off on the city’s proposed map.

The move could set the stage for a fiery May 11 election in which the outcome may provide the suburb of 29,000 residents with its first Hispanic council member.

Since 2006, Farmers Branch has spent about $6 million in legal fees defending a stymied ordinance barring illegal immigrants from rental housing. Ultimately, it led 10 Hispanic residents to sue the city under the Voting Rights Act of 1965, alleging the city’s at-large council election system discriminated against Hispanics.

The decision by Judge Sidney Fitzwater follows his ruling that the city violated the Voting Rights Act and had to develop a remedy. Fitzwater is a Republican appointee and the chief judge of the U.S. District Court in Texas’ Northern District.


“It is hard to believe we are still fighting this fight,” said Elizabeth Villafranca, a former City Council candidate and whose election loss was dissected during the three-day trial. “The good thing that came out of all this is how under-represented we are in the city.”

Alfonso Baladez, a 67-year-old plaintiff in the case, testified that he had given up voting because his candidate never got elected.

On Friday, Baladez said: “I just wanted to be listened to. Now I can go to my district councilperson. There are things that are just not right.”

Under the new single-member map, District 1 on the city’s western side will have a majority of Hispanic U.S. citizens of voting age.

The last update I had on this was from 2010. This was the second such lawsuit filed to implement single member districts in Farmers Branch; an earlier one had been dismissed because the the judge ruled that the plaintiffs could not draw a single member district that would elect a Hispanic candidate. I guess we’ll know for sure in a few months. Ana Reyes, who works for state Rep. Rafael Anchía, has said she intends to run in the new district. We’ll see how that goes. In the meantime, the FB City Council still has to approve the plan, which is scheduled for discussion on February 19, and there is still the possibility of an appeal. It’s not the end quite yet, but you can see it from here.

Fifth Circuit will re-hear the Farmers Branch lawsuit again

I have an uneasy feeling about this.

When will they learn?

Farmers Branch was sued four years ago after it passed an ordinance allowing the city building inspector to evict any illegal immigrant renters. Its case will now go before the full membership of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, with 10 judges appointed by Republican presidents and just five by Democrats.

So far, no court has allowed Farmers Branch to enforce any form of the ordinance. But the appeals court’s rare move to hear the case a second time, months after a different three-judge panel ruled against Farmers Branch, could be a sign that the town might finally get a victory.

The current ordinance, which replaced an earlier 2006 version, would require all renters to obtain a $5 city license and fill out an application that asks about their legal status. Then, the city’s building inspector would have to check whether any immigrant applying for a license was in the United States legally. Illegal immigrants would be denied a permit, and landlords who knowingly allow illegal immigrants to stay as tenants could be fined or have their renters’ license barred.

The appeals court has directed all sides to focus on the U.S. Supreme Court’s June ruling on Arizona’s tough immigration law. That ruling rejected major parts of the law, but upheld the so-called “show me your papers” requirement, which gives law enforcement authority to check a person’s legal status if officers have reasonable suspicion he or she is in the U.S. illegally.

See here for more on that original Fifth Circuit ruling, and here for plenty of Farmers Branch-related blogging. A federal appeals court in Pennsylvania has heard a similar appeal from the town of Hazelton, which is the Keystone State’s version of Farmers Branch, but it hasn’t ruled yet. The Fifth Circuit could set a precedent for other appeals courts to follow, and given how awful some of its recent rulings have been. that’s an ominous prospect. We’ll see how it goes.

Fifth Circuit rules against Farmers Branch

I almost missed this.

When will they learn?

A federal appeals court has upheld the ruling that struck down a Farmers Branch renters ordinance aimed at banning illegal immigrants from rental housing in the city.

The decision by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Wednesday upholds the federal government’s right to control immigration laws through the Constitution’s supremacy clause.

“This is a national problem, needing a national solution. And it impacts the nation’s relations with Mexico and other nations,” the decision said.

The appeals court ruled that the ordinance was more than a housing regulation and was “designed to burden aliens, both documented and undocumented, in Farmers Branch. As such, the ordinance serves no legitimate city interest…”

Farmers Branch Mayor Bill Glancy said he hadn’t read the decision, or spoken to the outside legal counsel. But, he said, “I have supported our stance on illegal immigration because I feel something must be done.”

Glancy said he couldn’t say yet whether the city would appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

One reason why that might not be such a hot idea is in the Huffington Post story:

William Brewer, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs, said he sensed a “strong undercurrent” throughout the appellate court’s decision that Farmers Branch was engaged in discrimination. The ruling is particularly meaningful because the 5th Circuit has a reputation for conservatism, he said.

Brewer noted that the ruling affirms Boyle’s decision that Farmers Branch must pay the plaintiffs’ attorney fees, which before the appeal were nearly $2 million. He called that portion of the decision “a strong deterrent” against other cities seeking to pass similar laws.

“Clearly, both the trial court and the appellate court recognize that this ordinance was discriminatory,” Brewer said.

That’s on top of the $4 million they’ve spent so far; who knows how many more millions they’d have to waste pursuing a Supreme Court appeal. They haven’t shown any evidence of sanity on this, however. Some lessons just have to be learned the hard way, I suppose.

The plaintiffs don’t think it’s over yet, either.

Nina Perales, the vice president of litigation for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, who argued the case before the 5th Circuit in October, didn’t downplay the significance of the ruling, which she said came from one of the most conservative appellate courts in the country.

“This is a stern message from the federal court that ordinances that target people for expulsion based on their race or ethnicity are unconstitutional, even if you dress them up as local immigration laws,” she said.

But while the ruling is a victory for immigrants in the realm of housing, she said the effects on other aspects of immigration law cannot be easily predicted. That’s because immigration laws are often packaged into big omnibus bills, she said — including some pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.

“A lot of these laws are a smorgasbord,” she said. “Some have to do with police, some have to do with employment, day laborers, solicitation of employment, some with housing.”

And coming up next month is the SCOTUS hearing on Arizona’s notorious SB1070, which was the basis for the “sanctuary cities” bill that Rick Perry declared an emergency but which thankfully did not pass. While most of that bill has been blocked by the lower courts, some portions of it were upheld. Regardless of what happens, there’s likely to be a lot more attempts by cities and states to regulate immigration in some fashion, and a lot more litigation to follow it. Given how lawsuit-happy some Attorneys General have been of late, even if Congress manages to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill, I doubt that will stop any of this activity any time soon.

A little perspective about redistricting

So now we wait for the full Supreme Court’s ruling on AG Abbott’s requests to stay the 2012 elections, which by the way would only apply to the elections affected by the disputed redistricting maps. Other primary elections for things like the SBOE, statewide and county offices, would proceed as usual in March while the Lege, the State Senate, and Congress would be pushed back till May if Abbott gets his wish. Yes, we’d have two separate primaries next year under this scenario. How big an unfunded mandate to the counties do you think that would be? Talk about “irreparable harm”.

Anyway. For all of the piteous wailing and gnashing of teeth that Republicans are doing about those big bad activist judges, let’s keep something in perspective: The court-drawn State House map, under a set of reasonably optimistic assumptions, produces a 2013 Lege with 90 Rs and 60 Ds. That’s a 60% Republican chamber, with two more Rs than what they had in 2003 under what was at the time the map of their dreams. Can anyone seriously say that this is unfair to the Republicans? Go back through all of the elections this past decade, and outside of the 2010 anomaly, only three Rs won statewide with 60% of the vote or more: Carole Keeton Rylander in 2002 against the hapless Marty Akin; George W. Bush in 2004; and Kay Bailey Hutchison in 2006, back when she was still popular among her fellow Republicans. And remember, 60 is far from guaranteed for the Dems. It requires them to recruit well, to defend the increasingly vulnerable Craig Eiland while retaining Pete Gallego’s open seat, and to defeat several R incumbents in favorable but not overwhelming turf. It assumes conditions are at least comparable to 2008, which initial polling says is likely to be true but which can change at any time. It assumes that there’s no great effect from the voter ID law, if it ever gets precleared, and that the usual suppressive efforts like what we see from the Harris County Tax Assessor’s office and the like are no more successful than usual. That’s a lot of assumptions, and if one or more of them turns out to be untrue we could be looking at 95-55, or a 63% Republican House. This isn’t enough for them?

Now let’s consider what I would consider a wildly optimistic outcome for the Dems, in which they capture 65 seats total. That’s still a 57% Republican advantage. No Republican got as much as 57% in 2008 – John McCain’s 55.45% was the best showing – and under these conditions, clearly none would get that much in 2012. Indeed, for the Dems to win 65 seats next year I’d expect some statwide Republicans to fail to get 50% of the vote. My point is that this map still tilts pretty heavily in the Republicans’ favor. Whereas the map drawn by the Republicans in 2001 came close to having a Democratic majority with Republicans still winning everything statewide, I can imagine Democrats sweeping all statewide offices but not getting a legislative majority under this oh-so-unfair judge-drawn map.

And that’s just the House we’re talking about. The best case scenario for the State Senate is for the Dems to maintain the 12 seats they have now, which requires Wendy Davis to hang on in a majority R district. That means Dems maintain 39% of that body, which is to say a lower percentage than in the House. If Davis loses, the Rs control 65% of the Senate. The wildly optimistic view has the Dems eventually winning SD09, giving them 13 out of 31, or 42% of the Senate. Tell me again how unfair this is to the Republicans?

And finally we have Congress, where the if-all-goes-about-as-well-as-we-hope scenario is 13 Dems out of 36, or 64% Republican. The low end for Dems is 12, or 67% Republican, while the high end for now is probably 16 – the 13 we’re all pointing to, plus CDs 06, 10, and 14. That’s still 56% Republican. Say it with me now – How is this unfair to the Republicans?

Now I’m not so naive as to think there’s anything “fair” about redistricting. Even under a system that everyone could agree was “fair”, for some value of that word, the end result of any given election is likely to favor one side or the other for any number of reasons. Fairness is not a legal requirement, either. The Republicans probably could have drawn a slightly less egregious map that pegged the Democratic ceiling in the House at 55-57 for this election and maybe 65 for the foreseeable future that would have had a chance at preclearance. They got greedy, they got caught, and now they’re screaming like stuck pigs even though the maps that were imposed on them will likely leave them in the majority for the rest of the decade without having to increase their appeal to Latino voters and even as their statewide hegemony crumbles. We should all have problems like that.

Be all that as it may, candidate filings began yesterday, under the assumption that the elections calendar will proceed as originally planned. Various entities are keeping track of who has filed for what so far. Houston Politics has Harris County information, of which the most interesting tidbit is that former State Rep. Robert Talton has filed for County Attorney against Vince Ryan; PoliTex has Tarrant County filings – Fort Worth City Council Member Kathleen Hicks was first out of the gate for the new CD33; Greg’s Texas Political Almanac has a running tally; and the TDP is tweeting filings from its Austin headquarters – follow @TxDemParty or search the hashtag #TXD2012 for more. Finally, one candidate I want to highlight even though I doubt he has a chance to win is Jack Ternan, running for the open SD08 that had been Sen. Florence Shapiro’s seat. My reason for noting and approving of his candidacy comes from his bio:

After completing school, I joined the law firm of Bickel & Brewer where I practice complex commercial litigation. The firm has provided me an opportunity to seek justice for those affected by the City of Farmers Branch’s anti-immigrant ordinances, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and an anti-competitive deal between Southwest and American airlines.

Anyone who’s been working to bring justice to Farmers Branch is all right in my book.

The cost to cities of being anti-immigrant

The Center for American Progress has a new report out called The High Price of Local Immigration Enforcement that tracks how much various anti-immigrant ordinances in cities like Hazelton, PA, and Farmers Branch have cost them. Most of those costs have been related to litigation, as they have had to defend themselves against multiple lawsuits, though they have also seen their tax bases erode. As someone who’s been following the Farmers Branch story since 2006, this was all familiar to me, but just to bring everyone up to speed, here’s the bit about where Farmers Branch stands now from the full report.

The city was hit with four separate lawsuits, including one from merchants claiming that the English-only provision had hurt their businesses. The lawsuits were eventually combined. In January 2007, after a court temporarily blocked implementation of the Farmers Branch law pending the outcome of the lawsuits, the city council repealed the original rental law and replaced it with a similar one drafted by [anti-immigrant activist Kris] Kobach that made adjustments for families of mixed immigration or citizenship status.

That ordinance was approved by voters in a May election but was declared unconstitutional a year later by a federal court on the grounds that it violated the federal supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution, similar to the Hazleton, Pennsylvania, case. Undeterred, the city council passed another Kobach-authored ordinance in January, 2008, that would require all renters of apartments and houses to pay a $5 fee and state their legal status in their application for an occupancy license, thus removing landlords from the verification process.

The third ordinance also was declared unconstitutional by a federal court in April, 2010. Among its findings, the court noted that the Farmers Branch ordinance applies federal immigration classifications for purposes not authorized or contemplated by federal law. “As a result, the ordinance creates an additional restriction on alien residence in the City. The direct regulation of private contract for shelter based on inapplicable federal classifications constitutes an impermissible regulation of immigration,” the court stated. Farmers Branch then followed the path of Hazleton by asking an appellate court to overturn the lower court’s rejection of its immigration control ordinance. The case is now pending before the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.

All of this has cost Farmers Branch $4 million, with more to come as the current case proceeds. Read the report for all the details.

What this report doesn’t explore, unfortunately, is the potential cost to cities and the state of the various anti-immigrant bills that are pending in the Texas Legislature. I presume that the first thing that will happen after some form of one of Debbie Riddle’s bills is signed into law that Texas will be subject to similar litigation as Arizona. Even if you take lawsuits out of the equation, the so-called “sanctuary city” bills are designed to force local law enforcement agencies to do the work of immigration officials at the risk of losing some state funds, but no funding mechanism is provided to compensate them for that extra work. What would an honest fiscal note for these bills look like? Those are the questions I’d like to see addressed right now.

Time for a change in Farmers Branch

Good riddance.

Farmers Branch Mayor Tim O’Hare announced this morning that he will not seek re-election in this suburb that gained national fame for its stance on illegal immigration.


O’Hare did not endorse any candidates for mayor but attending his news conference this morning were former city council members Charlie Bird and Bill Glancy. Both men are believed to be considering a bid for the mayoral perch.

As for O’Hare’s future political plans, he said “I’ve followed politics since I was a teen-ager. Politics is something that interests me.” But for the immediate future, the mayor said he wanted to focus on raising a family and enlarging it.

I sincerely hope that the next Mayor of Farmers Branch will not be a xenophobic fearmongerer. I don’t expect that to happen, unfortunately, but I hope so anyway.

Tomball declines to be like Farmers Branch

I’m stunned. Pleased, but stunned.

The Tomball City Council late Tuesday defeated a proposal to make English the city’s official language and voted down another measure seeking to prohibit illegal immigrants from renting or owning property or owning or operating a business there.

The council also voted to keep the city’s day laborer site open and operating, despite vociferous protests from some in the audience.

And officials delayed taking action on a proposal to award city contracts strictly to companies and subcontractors that hire and use only legal U.S. citizens as employees.

Most council members agreed that making English the city’s official language was an unnecessary move that would not enhance Tomball’s image or interests. And most of the city’s elected officials appeared leery of the idea seeking to limit undocumented immigrants’ property rights, noting it could bring an avalanche of lawsuits challenging its constitutionality, which could cost the city millions.

“I’d sure hate to take our people down that route,” said City Councilman Rick Brown. “It’s lawsuit after lawsuit.”

Councilman Preston Dodson agreed, saying such a move could have “huge constitutionality issues.”

Yes, it’s lawsuit after lawsuit, which you will lose, all the while spending millions of dollars that could have been spent on more productive pursuits. That’s been a badge of honor in Farmers Branch, or at least it will be until they have to declare bankruptcy. I’m glad to see that Tomball has more sense than that. Jake Silverstein and Marc Campos have more.

Another lawsuit against Farmers Branch over City Council districts

Trying again to force the city of Farmers Branch to create single member City Council districts.

The suit seeks an end at-large voting for City Council seats, arguing that the current method dilutes Hispanic voting strength. Nearly half the city is Hispanic, according to estimates of the U.S. Census Bureau over a three-year-period ending in 2008.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Dallas on behalf of several Farmers Branch residents by the Bickel & Brewer Storefront. Bickel & Brewer is firm that has sued the city over an ordinance that bans landlords from renting to illegal immigrants. Federal judges have declared two versions of the rental ordinance to be unconstitutional.

A federal judge dismissed an earlier voting rights suit, one that was filed shortly after the May 2007 council elections. That suit was brought by a San Antonio attorney and Dallas lawyer Domingo García, whose firm is best known for its personal injury litigation.

The 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 now.

The new lawsuit was brought by 10 Spanish-surnamed residents. It said that under the current election system, all six City Council members could reside on the same block.

It noted that Hispanics are heavily concentrated in the northwestern part of the city. It said there are enough Hispanics within a small geographic area to allow a single-member district voting system in which Hispanics would form a majority in at least one district.

When the previous suit was dismissed, the judge wrote in his opinion that the plaintiffs did not prove that a majority-minority single-member district could be created. I’m guessing that this lawsuit is using updated Census figures to address that point. There are also more election results, such as this year’s in which all candidates were Anglo, that they can use. We’ll see if any of that makes a difference.

Elections today

Just a reminder that for some of you, there are elections today, including a special election to replace State Sen. Kip Averitt in Waco, school board elections in Austin and Dallas, and of course elections for Mayor and City Council in Galveston and Farmers Branch, among others. Polls will be open till 7 PM – check your County Clerk webpage for voting locations. As you can imagine, these tend to be very low-turnout affairs, so your vote counts a lot. If you’ve got an election in your neighborhood, please go vote. Thanks very much.

Farmers Branch prepares to waste more money

It sure must be nice to have all these taxpayer dollars to spend on such frivolities.

[Farmers Branch] plans to appeal a court ruling against its ordinance, which would prevent landlords from renting houses or apartments to illegal immigrants — and it hopes to serve as an example to other communities trying to deal with illegal immigration.

“Farmers Branch is a town of law and order … a patriotic, American-loving town,” Mayor Tim O’Hare said. “I think this is important for America. It’s important to show other cities and towns that you can make a difference, you can stand up for what’s right.”

They’ve lost every court battle so far, while spending millions of dollars for the privilege of having their ordinances declared unconstitutional. And those costs keep going up.

A second team of lawyers submitted their legal fees and costs to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas shortly before midnight Monday The team consists of the ACLU of Texas, the ACLU’s Immigrant Rights Project and the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

Earlier this month, the Bickel & Brewer Storefront law firm submitted a legal bill of $850,000. The two legal teams are linked by the consolidation of suits and their combined bill submitted to the court as the winning party is now nearly $2 million.

Farmers Branch Mayor Tim O’Hare called the legal bills submitted to the court “a joke.” He added, “When we win at the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which I believe we will, we won’t pay one nickel of this.”

Did I mention that they’ve lost every step of the way so far? O’Hare is actually talking about the city’s reserve funds in that story, which is just beyond crazy. I suppose some people just have to learn these things the hard way.

The legal bills keep piling up in Farmers Branch


The Bickel & Brewer Storefront law firm submitted a bill for $850,000 this week in federal court for its share of costs in the successful challenge to the constitutionality of the ordinance. A second legal team is expected to submit a bill for a similar sum this month.

Already, Farmers Branch has spent about $3.2 million to defend itself since September 2006, when it launched the first of three ordinances. The city has budgeted $623,000 for legal expenses through the rest of the fiscal year related to the ordinance defense.

The city also has been sued in state court for alleged violations of the Texas Open Meetings Act involving the crafting of the ordinance.

That means legal costs on immigration ordinances could exceed $5 million by the end of the 2010 fiscal year on Sept. 30.

If this drags on much longer, they’ll wind up spending enough to have bought Lakewood Church. You’d think in an economy like this a city might have better things to do with its money, but that’s Farmers Branch for you.

By the way, Farmers Branch municipal elections will be in May. A number of sane, reform-minded folk have run for office there in recent years. They have unfortunately not had any success, but you can’t win if you don’t try. My blogging about Farmers Branch and its ridiculous assault against mostly harmless and powerless people living there caught the attention awhile back of a local resident named Kat Holmes, who has decided to run for Council herself this year. If anyone else reading this is a resident of Farmers Branch, I hope you’ll consider supporting her candidacy. Good luck to you, Kat!

Farmers Branch loses in court yet again

Yet another loss in court for the city of Farmers Branch and its efforts to make apartment owners check potential renters’ immigration status.

The City of Farmers Branch enacted ordinance 2952 in 2008 but today’s decision in the U.S. District Court’s Northern District of Texas blocks the city from enforcing the ordinance.

“The Court resoundingly rejected the City’s claim that it had the authority to regulate the residence of noncitizens within its borders,” said the Texas American Civil Liberties Union in a press release. The ACLU, along with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), filed suit on behalf of a group of Farmers Branch landlords and tenants. “Noting that the City Building Inspector would be charged with interpreting and applying immigration information to prospective tenants, the court concluded that Ordinance 2952 ‘is an invalid regulation of immigration,’” added the ACLU’s statement.

In her opinion, U.S. District Judge Jane J. Boyle ruled: “Ordinance 2952 is a regulation of immigration and is preempted by the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution because the authority to regulate immigration is exclusively a federal power.”

Judge Boyle had originally issued an injunction against Farmers Branch back in 2008, shortly after the suit was filed.

Nina Perales, MALDEF’s Regional Counsel in San Antonio, said she wouldn’t be surprised if the city appealed the ruling, but indicated Farmers Branch taxpayers might speak out against such an expensive effort.

“Losing defendants often talk about appeals on the day the decision comes down,” she said. “The people of Farmers Branch have to decide whether they are going to continue to throw money away on this. The city needs its resources for better purposes.”

Farmers Branch has already spent millions trying to enact these “illegal ordinances” she added, and expected at some point the “folks have to say, ‘Stop.’”

They’ve spent three point two million, according to the DMN. Which didn’t stop their mayor from vowing to appeal. Honestly, by now it probably would have been cheaper to offer to pay the moving expenses of everyone they wanted to evict from town. Too late for that, I guess.

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.

Irving ordered to switch to single-member Council districts

A federal judge has ordered the city of Irving, Texas, to switch to single-member City Council districts because their current at-large system was in violation of the Voting Rights Act.

U.S. District Judge Jorge Solis issued the ruling Tuesday in response to a federal suit filed by Irving resident Manuel Benavidez, who claimed that the city’s at-large voting system essentially blocks the votes of Hispanics and violates the federal Voting Rights Act.

Solis ordered both sides to try to agree on a plan for elections and redistricting and a schedule for implementing that plan, and to submit either joint or proposed plans to the court within 90 days. If the parties fail to come up with an acceptable plan, Solis said that he would draw his own redistricting plan.

“This victory gives the Latino community in Irving a voice in the political process and the opportunity for representation,” said William A. Brewer III, partner at the Bickel & Brewer Storefront, who represented Benavidez. “We hope this result effects a positive contribution to the way in which certain municipalities approach a changing world.”


In his ruling, Solis noted numerous factors in Irving’s voting system that, “…weigh heavily against the ability of Hispanics to elect candidates of their own choosing; accordingly, the totality of the circumstances indicates the Defendant’s method of electing the mayor and members of its City Council violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.”


Single-member districts have been a contentious issue in Irving on and off for decades. In February, a charter review committee recommended creating some sort of single-member district system. A petition also is circulating to let voters decide whether there should be a mixed system of single-member and at-large council seats.

Hispanics make up the largest single racial or ethnic group in Irving. But creating a new City Council district where a majority of voters are Hispanic is virtually impossible, city attorneys argued in federal court filings.

Their reasoning: About 60 percent of Irving Hispanics who are old enough to vote aren’t citizens and thus can’t cast ballots.

Irving’s mayor and eight council members are all white even though whites make up only about 35.6 percent of the city’s population, according to 2007 American Community Survey estimates. Hispanics make up 40.6 percent of the population, according to the same estimate.

Benavidez’ attorneys said Irving’s Hispanic voters have overwhelmingly cast their ballots for Hispanic candidates in recent council elections. And they argued that none of those candidates won because non-Hispanic voters, who typically cast more than 90 percent of ballots in the elections, overwhelmingly supported Hispanic candidates’ opponents.

Good for Benavidez and the residents of Irving. As Greg notes, it’s not exactly clear why the plaintiffs in Irving won but the ones in Farmers Branch lost, though they are appealing and could get a boost from this ruling. Be that as it may, Irving is another one of those places that has gone on anti-immigrant binges, and as far as I’m concerned anything that makes places like that a little more representative of its population is a step in the right direction.

Villafranca loses in Farmers Branch

Back in March, I noted that businesswoman Elizabeth Villafranca, one of the leading voices in Farmers Branch against its anti-immigrant xenophobia, was running for City Council there. Alas, she did not win.

Among other municipal races from Saturday, a leading opponent of efforts in Farmers Branch to stop landlords from renting to illegal immigrants failed to win a city council seat.

Restaurant owner Elizabeth Villafranca lost to executive assistant Michelle Holmes, but she said some good came out of her run for council.

Villafranca: We called attention to a lot of things that are going on. And this is a good thing. This is a good day. Sometimes winning is not necessarily the most important thing. And certainly in this case that has proven to be the truth.

Villafranca said Farmers Branch has never had any minority representation on the city council and that needs to change.

There was a lawsuit filed last year to force Farmers Branch to draw single-member Council districts, but it was dismissed by a federal judge; the plaintiffs are appealing that ruling. As for Villafranca, she got 1315 votes out of 3851, or just over 34%. Given that the opponents to the 2007 referendum that ratified the latest version of their still-illegal ban on renting apartments to undocumented immigrants got 32% of the vote, this represents a tiny bit of progress. I hope they can pick up the pace of that progress for the next election.

Now how much would you pay to get rid of those immigrants?

They sure do seem to like flushing their money away in Farmers Branch.

The Farmers Branch City Council will spend nearly a half-million dollars more to cover the cost of legal fees incurred by two groups that have challenged the city’s ordinances on illegal immigration.

Since 2006 to Tuesday’s council decision, the city has spent about $2 million on legal fees related to illegal immigration.

Mayor Tim O’Hare and attorney Pete Smith declined to comment on the mediated settlement of $250,000 with the Villas at Parkside Partners and $220,000 with Alfredo Vasquez and the American Civil Liberties Union.

“We are grateful to have settled the matter of attorneys’ fees in our first case against the city of Farmers Branch. Now we can concentrate on current litigation,” said Lisa Graybill, legal director of the ACLU of Texas.

Note that these fees are from the lawsuit that resulted from the original Farmers Branch ordinance, Ordinance 2903, which was permanently struck down in May and for which the final settlement was reached in August. There is a separate lawsuit for the successor to this ordinance, Ordinance 2952, for which a temporary injunction was issued in September. When Farmers Branch loses that suit, and the judge in question, the same one for 2903, has said he’d be inclined to strike this one down as well, they’ll be on the hook for more fees. And there’s yet another suit stemming from open records requests for the invoices associated with all these bills. At this rate, they may top $5 million spent on this utter folly.

What’s funny about this is that the same type of people who bitch and moan about every penny the city of Houston wants to spend on this program or that seem to be just fine with Farmers Branch spending its money in this fashion. I guess it’s all a matter of what your priorities are.

Activist running in Farmers Branch

Via Stace, I see that one of the leaders in the fight against xenophobia in Farmers Branch is a on the ballot for City Council there.

Business owner and activist Elizabeth Villafranca [announced] her candidacy Monday afternoon.

Villafranca, an outspoken opponent of city officials’ failed attempts to prohibit immigrants from renting homes, is seeking the spot being vacated by Jim Smith.

She and her husband own Cuquita’s, a Mexican food restaurant in Farmers Branch.

I wish her the very best of luck. Given the results of the last election in Farmers Branch, I can’t say I’m optimistic about her chances. But you have to start somewhere.