Election law update: Preclearance makes a return in TX. Could AZ be next?

In a closely-watched case, a federal judge in Texas ruled last Friday that the City of Pasadena violated § 2 of the Voting Rights Act by moving from single-member districts to a mix of single member and at-large districts for municipal elections. The case is Patino v. Pasadena, No. 4:14-CV-03241 (S.D. Tex. Nov. 12, 2014). The judge found that Pasadena’s adoption of at-large districts had the intent and effect of discriminating against Latino voters. The court not only ordered Pasadena to restore the single-member district plan, but required Pasadena to preclear future election changes with the feds. 

Texas was previously required to preclear election law changes under § 5 of the Voting Rights Act.  Arizona was too.  That changed following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder, 133 S. Ct. 2612 (2013). In Shelby County, a 5 to 4 decision, the Court struck down the formula in § 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act used for determining which jurisdictions needed preapproval under § 5. While the Court did not rule on the constitutionality of § 5, the effect was to essentially end preclearance under that section. 

In the wake of Shelby County, voting rights advocates have looked to § 3(c) of the Voting Rights Act as a possible alternative.  It allows courts to require preclearance, but is considered more difficult to satisfy than § 5 and less protective.  That said, the plaintiffs in Patino successfully used § 3(c) against Pasadena. Arizona was a covered jurisdiction under § 5 and certainly is no stranger to election-related lawsuits.  Will last week’s ruling in Texas encourage similar suits here?  We’ll have to stay tuned.

Read more »