U.S. judge rejects challenge to Texas court elections


A Corpus Christi federal judge has rejected a challenge seeking to end statewide elections for Texas’ highest criminal and civil courts, allowing an electoral tradition that is more than a century old to continue.

The lawsuit — filed by Latino voters and LUPE, an organization founded by the late civil rights activist Cesar Chavez — argued that holding statewide elections to select members of the Texas Supreme Court and the Court of Criminal Appeals improperly dilutes Latino voting strength and denies Latinos the right to elect a candidate of their choice.

Ordering Texas to adopt single-member districts, the lawsuit argued, would correct the Voting Rights Act violation by creating at least two Latino-majority voting districts — based in the Rio Grande Valley and West Texas — for the nine-member courts.

U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos disagreed, even though she found that there is a racial divide among Texas voters and that white voters tend to vote as a bloc, typically defeating “the minority’s preferred candidate” for the state’s highest courts.

The problem, Ramos said, is that the challengers failed to prove that those electoral defeats were caused by race or racism.

A better predictor of electoral success, the judge noted, is party affiliation, and Latino voters tend to support Democrats in a state that has elected only Republicans to statewide political offices since 1996.

“Partisanship rather than race better explains Hispanic defeat at the polls,” wrote Ramos, a nominee of President Barack Obama who presided over a four-day trial on the matter in February in her Corpus Christi courtroom.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton praised the ruling, saying it acknowledged a system that was “enshrined in the Texas Constitution of 1867.”

“Texans have been choosing the courts’ highest appellate judges in statewide elections for 142 years, and this system supports the state’s interest in maintaining judicial accountability and independence,” Paxton said.



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