Dallas Morning News - Associated Press - Thursday, May 22, 2008
AUSTIN – A federal judge sided with the Texas Democratic Party on Thursday in a lawsuit filed by Latino voter advocates who claimed the party's method for apportioning presidential delegates is discriminatory.
U.S. District Judge Fred Biery in San Antonio ruled that the spirit and intent of the federal Voting Rights Act, which protects minority voters, was not violated, as the League of United Latin American Citizens and other plaintiffs alleged.
Biery dismissed the case. He ruled that the Voting Rights Act does not dictate to political parties how to decide on their presidential nominees as long as everyone has the right to participate.
The Latino voter advocates claimed the complicated Texas delegate system – which included a March 4 primary and caucus and senate district caucuses March 29 – unfairly dilutes Latino votes by allotting fewer presidential delegates to heavily Hispanic areas.
Nearly all the delegates are apportioned based on Democratic voter turnout numbers in state senate districts in previous elections. This year, that meant that some predominantly Hispanic districts, where turnout was low in 2004 and 2006, got fewer delegates than others, particularly urban, predominantly black districts where Democratic turnout was higher.
Latino districts favored Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in this spring's primary and caucuses; black districts favored Sen. Barack Obama.
Democratic leaders contend their state delegate system is fair and that it rewards those areas that strongly support the party.
"We are pleased with Judge Biery's ruling, but it is important to remember that both the Texas Democratic Party and LULAC respect the importance of the Voting Rights Act and encourage participation by Texans from all walks of life in the electoral process," Texas Democratic Party chairman Boyd Richie said.
Jose Garza, an attorney for the Latino voter advocates, said it's likely the plaintiffs will appeal the opinion to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, though a final decision hasn't been made.
He said there may be an appeal because of the important issues at stake in the case and the "fairly devastating scope of the decision." Garza declined to say anything further until discussing it with his clients.
The plaintiffs were not contesting to whom the delegates were awarded, but rather how the allotment is made.
The judge wrote that the plaintiffs never alleged that Latino voters were "intimidated, threatened or otherwise kept from voting." He said if they had gone to the polls in greater numbers in previous elections they would have benefited.
"The adage remains 'no vote, no voice,"' he wrote.
The case was filed earlier this month. Both sides were pushing for a ruling before the party's state convention in Austin on June 6-7, where the final decision on caucus delegates to the national convention for Clinton and Obama will be made.
Texas will send 228 delegates to the national convention. Of those, 126 were determined by primary results, while 67 others are pledged delegates distributed through a series of caucuses, culminating with the upcoming state convention. There are 32 superdelegates who can make their own decision on which candidate to support, and three others will be named by the state party chairman.
Democratic Party officials had noted that the general system for selecting Texas presidential delegates has been in place for 20 years.
Biery agreed, and said the reason it got such notice this year was because of the close presidential race. The judge also mentioned his own background as a Democrat and the fact that he was appointed by former President Bill Clinton in the 1990s.
He wrote: "Notes of full disclosure: Senator Clinton's husband nominated me to the federal bench, and I hope to shoot baskets some day with Senator Obama."
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