A federal judge is ordering Pasadena, Texas to submit its voting system for federal approval – marking the first such order since the Supreme Court decision in 2013 striking down the heart of the Voting Rights Act.
Shelby County vs. Holder – the 2013 Supreme Court case – eliminated a Voting Rights Act stipulation that jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination in voting had to get permission from the federal government before making any changes to their voting rules. The oversight was to make sure that rules did not discriminate against minority voters.
On Jan. 6, Judge Lee Rosenthal of the Federal District Court in Houston found that the city of Pasadena intentionally racially discriminated against Hispanic voters.
Rick Hasen, professor at the University of California–Irvine, has been paying close attention to the case. He says it’s an unusual situation when compared to similar voting rights cases.
“Usually what the courts are looking at is whether or not a law has discriminatory effect,” Hasen says. “But in the Pasadena case, the judge found that this change was made in an intentionally racially discriminatory way. And when there’s a finding of intentional racial discrimination that’s an unusual finding. But that does give the court greater powers in terms of the remedies.”
In this case, the court has the ability to put Pasadena back under the need for federal clearance before changing any voting rules for the city.
The case is also unusual because there is documented evidence that the city racially discriminated against a group of people, Hasen says.
“The officials who were proposing this change, the people who were doing the mailing, were told to pull out the names of Hispanic voters – don’t bother sending it to them,” he says. “The judge saw this as evidence of racially discriminatory intent. That this was aimed at white voters in a way to give white voters back their power.”
If appealed, the case will go to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Written by Beth Cortez-Neavel.