“Like something out of the bad old days, a southern electoral body plays naked racial politics, intentionally using its power to minimize a dissenting race’s political sway,” are the words the Equal Voting Rights Institute chose to open its lawsuit filed on behalf of five white voters in Dallas County.
“That’s not history — it’s today’s Dallas County. Dallas County became a majority-minority jurisdiction before the turn of the century, finally losing its non-Hispanic White (‘Anglo’) plurality in 2006,” the lawsuit continued.
The Dallas-based organization alleges white voters in the county were discriminated against when county officials, mostly Democrats who were put in office by black and Hispanic voters, approved a redistricting plan.
As a result, the suit claims white voters have not been able to elect the Republicans they want to be on what is called the Commissioners Court in Dallas County.
Dan Morenoff, executive director of the Equal Voting Rights Institute, said Harding v. County of Dallas is the first time that an attempt has been made to bring the Voting Rights Act into alignment with the new demographic realities of America.
Census Bureau data shows 39 percent of Dallas County’s population is Hispanic, 33 percent white and 22 percent black. Rather than looking at it as a county of three minorities, the Equal Voting Rights Institute sees it as two demographics: white and non-white, a 33 percent minority and a 61 percent majority.
“EVRI simply asks the Court to assure the equal protection of a minority from abuse by local governments, exactly as sought by Martin Luther King, Jr. and Lyndon Johnson so many years ago,” Morenoff said in a statement released Jan.15, as the court case was filed in district court.
The reality of the American population has changed dramatically since the Voting Rights Act was signed by President Johnson 50 years ago.
When Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 into law it was seen as a landmark piece of legislation that prohibited racial discrimination in voting.
It opened the voting booth to millions of new minority voters and has been described as the most decisive civil rights law in U.S. history.
But as the lawsuit filed by the EVRI points out, America’s population is not the same as it was 50 years ago.
The U.S. Department of Education forecast in August 2014 that for the first time there would be more non-white students than white students in America’s public schools in the fall semester of 2014.
The Census Bureau predicts whites will not be in the minority until 2043, but as The Economist pointed out the 2014 fall enrollment gives us an idea of what is to come.
“When Congress took the historic step in 1965 to equally protect all Americans from racial discrimination, they meant every American and I look forward to seeing the courts enforce that original understanding,” said Morenoff.
Dallas County is governed by five county commissioners. Four of them are elected in districts, with another elected at-large.
Three of the five commissioners are white. There is one black commissioner and one Hispanic commissioner. However the Democrat to Republican split is 4-1 and that is where the Equal Rights Institute sees the problem.
The Institute argues the redistricting map drawn up after the 2010 census created districts that are overwhelmingly Democratic, effectively diluting the white vote.
Before the county’s new districting map went into effect in 2011, there had been two Republican commissioners.
“When it did so, those in power punished the out-of-favor local racial minority, carving them between districts so that they could hope to influence the election of just one commissioner, even though they made up fully 48 percent of the county’s electorate,” the Equal Voting Rights Institute alleged.
The Equal Voting Rights Institute’s attorneys argue the Commissioners Court could have drawn a second district where the local minority could hope to elect their preferred commissioner.
“Had they drawn a map that better respected Dallas’s political subdivisions and more fairly apportioned Dallas’s citizens and residents among the districts, they would have produced such a map. But they didn’t,” the lawsuit concludes.
Duke University law professor Guy-Uriel Charles told the Dallas Morning News this case is unique.
“I haven’t seen anything like this,” said Charles, who is the founding director of the Duke Law Center on Law, Race and Politics.
“Essentially, it looks like the conservatives are doing what they believe Democrats have done in the past,” Charles said. “They believe the Democrats have used the Voting Rights Act to create Democratic districts. So now they are trying to use the Voting Rights Act to create and protect Republican districts.”
“Whether this will work or not will depend on the facts on the ground.”