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Judge Finds Irving School District is in Violation of the Voting Rights Act

BY IRVING WEEKLY STAFF

Irving, Texas. August 15, 2014

The Bickel & Brewer Storefront announced today that a federal judge has determined that the Irving Independent School District’s (“Irving ISD”) system of electing school board trustees violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (“Voting Rights Act”) and denies fair representation to Latino voters.

Following a bench trial on July 28 – 30, 2014, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas Judge Sidney Fitzwater determined that “the Irving ISD system for electing trustees violated Section 2 of the [Voting Rights] Act, under the totality of circumstances, it denies Hispanic voters an equal opportunity to participate in the electoral process and to elect representatives of their choice.”

Following today’s decision, Irving ISD has 60 days to submit an electoral plan to remedy its violation of the Voting Rights Act.

“This verdict sends a powerful message to this school district and any others that would attempt to deny Latinos fair participation in the political process,” says William A. Brewer III, partner at Bickel & Brewer Storefront. “Our clients urge Irving ISD to take the immediate steps required to revise its voting scheme – and give Latino voters the opportunity for political participation they deserve.”

Following a lawsuit filed by Manuel Benavidez in 2008, Irving ISD enacted a 5-2 electoral plan in 2012, composed of five single-member districts and two at-large districts. Benavidez, a Latino resident who has run three times for the school board and lost, filed a second lawsuit against the Irving ISD in January 2013. They alleged that the Irving ISD’s new 5-2 plan still denied Hispanic voters the opportunity to meaningfully participate in the electoral process and elect representatives of their choice. Irving residents Juana and Daniela De Leon were also plaintiffs in the case.

Irving ISD argued that District 6 of the Irving ISD, a single-member district, provided Hispanic voters an equal opportunity to participate in the electoral process.

The court ruled that District 6 is not a sufficiently drawn single-member district containing a majority of eligible Hispanic voters and, thus, Irving ISD’s 5-2 system violates the Voting Rights Act. Judge Fitzwater further wrote that, “defendants’ own data indicate that the Hispanic population in the Irving ISD has continued to grow since the 2010 Census, suggesting that, in time, a 7-0 system composed of seven single-member districts and no at-large positions may be necessary to ensure compliance” with Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

During the trial, Storefront attorneys demonstrated that up to two electoral districts could be drawn withinthe Irving school district with a majority of eligible Latino voters.Attorneys provided maps in court outlining the boundaries of the suggested districts.

All of the seven current Irving ISD board members are Anglo. About 71.5 percent of Irving students are Hispanic. According to the lawsuit, the 2010 Census results confirmed that Latinos make up 50.2 percent of residents within the school district boundaries and 44 percent of the area voting age population.

“This verdict is a defining moment for this community and the students it serves,” says Jesse Okiror, associate at Bickel & Brewer Storefront. “It ensures that everyone in the community has a voice in the political process.”

The Storefront has successfully challenged violations of the Voting Rights Act on behalf of Latino voters in previous actions. In 2009, the Storefront secured a trial victory, also on behalf of Benavidez, proving that Irving’s City Council at-large elections were in violation of the Voting Rights Act and denied representation to Latinos. The City Council and mayor now are elected from six single-member districts and three at-large seats.

The Storefront also won a landmark victory in August 2012, when a judge ruled that the Dallas suburb of Farmers Branch, Texas, violated the Voting Rights Act by using an at-large voting system to elect its City Council. The victory resulted in the creation of five single-member districts, including one district with a Latino majority.

Joining Brewer and Okiror in representing plaintiffs was partner Kenneth Hickox.



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