And that’s where the case comes back to Wheeler’s name.
Heath points out that four candidates preferred by Hispanic voters prevailed in the 2015 elections — the only contests held under the 6-2 map. Among them was Wheeler, who was re-elected in a district that’s not majority-minority but is still “effective for Hispanics,” Heath said.
“That’s 50 percent (of the council seats) and Hispanics made up about 50 percent of the citizen voting-age population, so that was proportional representation,” Heath added.
But Nina Perales of the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund — the attorney representing the Hispanic plaintiffs against the city — has repeatedly pointed out in court that Wheeler was assisted in his 2015 victory by “special circumstances” — his incumbency and his last name. Meanwhile, the number of Hispanic-majority districts was reduced to three under the 6-2 map.
The case could reverberate beyond Pasadena’s city limits. Legal experts contend that a decision by the 5th Circuit could guide other courts around the country that are considering similar voting rights cases.