Voting Rights Act: Texas Court Confirms U.S. Supreme Court
The Beaumont Court of Appeals is the first Texas appellate court to address how the U.S. Supreme Court’s holding in Shelby County v. Holder impacts a Texas political subdivision’s election. Shelby County essentially declared void the federal Voting Rights Act requirement that voting changes be precleared prior to implementation.
The facts of Rodriguez v. Beaumont Independent School District (BISD) are complex, but suffice it to say that the election change involved a change to BISD’s single member district plan. Preclearance litigation in federal court involving the change ensued for more than two years.
Under the Texas Education Code, the change to BISD’s single member districts is required to be implemented immediately. In spite of that state law provision, the election was enjoined by the federal court pending a preclearance determination under the Voting Rights Act. After the Shelby County decision voided the preclearance requirement, however, the federal preclearance litigation was dismissed.
When it dismissed BISD’s preclearance litigation, the federal court issued an order stating that the rescheduling of BISD’s trustee election “is a matter of Texas election law, which appears to have sufficient resources to resolve the matter without this court’s involvement.”
Because BISD’s preclearance litigation was dismissed for lack of jurisdiction, the Beaumont Court of Appeals concluded that only the state law mandating an immediate election controls. The fact that the district plans/maps are likely to be the subject of future claims arising under the Voting Rights Act is no longer relevant.
“While the single-member district maps at issue in the trial court are both creatures of federal statutory preclearance requirements that existed prior to the proceedings now at issue, both BISD and the putative trustees have failed to recognize that after Shelby County issued, they were operating in a new landscape.”
The bottom line holding of this opinion is that Shelby County did indeed say what it said: Federal preclearance is gone and only state law controls, at least for now. Of course, city officials involved in Voting Rights Act litigation should consult with legal counsel on the specifics of their case.