Judge Rules Against Voting Rights Lawsuit

Judge rules against voting rights lawsuit

By Anabelle Garay
The Associated Press, November 5, 2008

Dallas (AP) — A federal judge ruled Tuesday against three Latino voters who wanted to change the way council members are elected in Farmers Branch, a Dallas suburb that has been trying to oust illegal immigrants from the city.

The federal suit on behalf of the three Farmers Branch residents claimed the votes of minorities were diluted by the at-large city council system used in the suburb. It sought the creation of single-member districts, in which a city council member is elected to represent a specific section of the city.

U.S. District Judge Reed O'Connor issued an opinion and order that found the claims didn't meet the burden required by the Voting Rights Act or 14th Amendment.

C. Robert Heath, a lawyer for the city, said the plaintiffs failed to show that voting-age Latino citizens would make up a majority in any single-member district.

'We are obviously very pleased, and the ruling is consistent with what we always thought the law was,' Heath said.

Attorney Rolando Rios, who represents the three, said they were considering whether to appeal the ruling.

'We obviously disagree with the court,' he said. 'We think that if Farmers Branch has single member districts, a minority would immediately get elected, which I think would be important, especially for the local discussion on immigration.'

Farmers Branch has been mired in a legal fight for nearly two years over whether officials can ban illegal immigrants from renting houses and apartments.

Opponents have challenged each version of a Farmers Branch housing rule seeking to drive out illegal immigrants.

Farmers Branch can't enforce its housing ordinance. A federal judge halted the rule from taking effect. The city later agreed to an injuction preventing it from enforcing the rule while it is challenged in court.

In the voter lawsuit, activists contended that if the method had been in place, at least one Latino candidate would have previously been elected to the council and could represent the ethnic group.

Currently, the mayor and five council members are all white men.

Since 1970, Farmers Branch has changed from a small, predominantly white community with a declining population to a city of almost 28,000 people, about 37 percent Hispanic, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Evidence presented by the plantiffs' attorneys included 2000 Census information that showed 2,500 out of 16,008 eligible voters in Farmers Branch identified themselves as Hispanic.

But they did not demonstrate that was enough to draw a sufficiently large and geographically compact district where Latinos of voting age were a majority, the judge wrote in his order.