A federal judge in Houston dealt a major blow Friday to the City of Pasadena in a closely watched voting rights case, ruling that officials deliberately diluted the clout of Hispanic voters by revising the system for electing City Council members. Chief U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal ordered Pasadena to revert to its previous use of single-member districts for the upcoming May elections and ruled the city would need pre-clearance from the Department of Justice for any future changes. “In Pasadena, Texas, Latino voters … do not have the same right to vote as their Anglo neighbors,” Rosenthal concluded in the 113-page decision released late Friday. Patricia Gonzales, one of the plaintiffs who filed the federal lawsuit, said fairness can be restored to the city election system. “All right,” she said, when informed of the ruling. “Now each section will be able to vote on who they want and their voices will be heard. I’m very pleased with the outcome.”
The ruling could provide a key test of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in 2013 that gutted portions of the Voting Rights Act, legal experts said.
“It is a great win,” said Michael Li, senior redistricting counsel at the Brennan Center. “This case shows that there is something you can do, at least if you have the facts, lawyers and resources.”
The lawsuit was filed by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund on behalf of a group of Latino voters, who said city leaders deliberately tried to quell the growing Hispanic vote by changing from eight to six single-member districts and adding two at-large positions elected citywide.