Earlier this year, however, a federal trial judge in Houston, District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal, became the first since the demise of Section 5 pre-clearance to impose Section 3 pre-clearance as a remedy for a discriminatory voting practice. That case involves a shift of the way voters in Pasadena, Texas, elect the members of the city council. Judge Rosenthal, after finding that the change discriminated intentionally against the city’s Hispanic voters, adopted a six-year period of pre-clearance for any future change in voting laws in that locality.
That case has now moved on up to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. And that is where one major threat to Section 3 remedies has arisen. It came in a legal brief filed by the state of Texas last month, supporting an appeal by the city of Pasadena as far as the city is challenging the remedy of Section 3 pre-clearance. That remedy, the state brief asserted, “must be sparingly and cautiously applied.”
The state’s filing argued that “misuse” of that mode of pre-clearance “threatens to re-impose the same unwarranted federal intrusion that Shelby County found could not be justified under the Constitution.” The brief contended that Judge Rosenthal had engaged in such a “misuse” of this provision by imposing it for only a single incident of discrimination – the one-time change in the method of electing the Pasadena city council.
The only circumstance in which a Section 3 pre-clearance remedy is valid, under either the specific language of Section 3, the reasoning of the Supreme Court in 2013, or the Constitution, the Texas brief contended, is when a judge can conclude that the discrimination was “pervasive, flagrant, widespread, and rampant.”