Judge Imposes Preclearance on Pasadena, TX for 6+ Years, Putting Ball in Trump DOJ’s Court

I reported back on January 6 that a federal district court found that the City of Pasadena, TX intentionally discriminated against Latino voters in changing its city council districting plan. (For background, read Jim Rutenberg’s excellent NYT magazine piece, and for follow up, today’s great Manny Fernandez piece.)

When the judge issued her ruling she left open the question of precisely how long and how extensive preclearance should be.  The judge has now issued this follow up order (h/t Michael Huerta). Under Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act, once a court has found intentional discrimination in voting the Court may order the jurisdiction to submit changes to preclearance for up to 10 years (for just some changes or for all changes).  The plaintiffs wanted 10 years and the city wanted 4.  The judge chose a middle position, making sure that the period covered the next round of redistricting after the census in Pasadena (which makes a lot of sense given the violation). Here is the relevant part of the order:

Under 52 U.S.C. § 10302(c), the court retains jurisdiction until June 30, 2023. During this period, no voting qualification or prerequisite to voting or standard, practice, or procedure with respect to voting different from that in force or effect on December 1, 2013 may be enforced unless and until the court has found that the qualification, prerequisite, standard, practice, or procedure does not have the purpose, and will not have the effect, of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race or color or in contravention of the voting guarantees set forth in 52 U.S.C. § 10303(f)(2). The qualification, prerequisite, standard, practice, or procedure may be enforced only after the City of Pasadena has submitted it to the United States Attorney General for preclearance and the Attorney General has not objected within 60 days after the submission. Neither the court’s finding nor the Attorney General’s failure to object will bar a subsequent action to enjoin the implementation or enforcement of the qualification, prerequisite, standard, practice, or procedure.

So this puts the ball in the hands of the voting division at the Justice Department for Trump’s DOJ.  (The matters only go to the Court if the jurisdiction does not submit to DOJ: “A change to Pasadena’s map or plan may be enforced without court review only if it has been submitted to the United States Attorney General and the Attorney General has not interposed an objection within 60 days (“preclearance”). You can bet the city will think it would have a better chance before Trump’s DOJ than before this court that has found intentional discrimination.  Once approval comes from DOJ, that’s it for preclearance. There’s no appeal of that decision. So there would have to be a new challenge filed in court to the particular objectionable practice.

Lots of people will be watching how the Trump DOJ handles matters like this.

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