Feds Allowed to Intervene for Texas Voter Rights
SAN ANTONIO, Texas (CN) - The United States can intervene in an action claiming that Texas trampled voter rights by adopting biased redistricting plans in 2011.
Lead plaintiff Shannon Perez challenged the constitutionality of the state's plans in May 2011. She named as defendants the state of Texas; Gov. Rick Perry; Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst; State Speaker of the House Joe Straus; and Secretary of State Hope Andrade.
The Western District of Texas has since consolidated the case with several similar complaints seeking relief under the Voting Rights Act.
As Uncle Sam sought to intervene in the Perez action, the state countered that the maneuver was untimely and that the claims were moot.
A divided three-judge panel green-lit the government's intervention Tuesday.
The court "already concluded that the 2011 plan claims are not moot," U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia and U.S. District Judge Xavier Rodriguez wrote. They spent little space revisiting the issue.
Instead, their 11-page opinion focused on the timeliness of the motion and the implications of the U.S. Supreme Court's June ruling in Shelby County v. Holder .
The high court's order struck down elements of the Voting Rights Act that required certain states and counties with a history of race discrimination to obtain preclearance for changes to their redistricting plans. Texas was among the states relieved of those preclearance requirements by the decision.
Garcia and Rodriguez noted that, in the current action, "the interest that the United States seeks to protect is not the same interest that was present from the inception of the litigation."
U.S. Circuit Judge Jerry Smith found otherwise in a seven-page dissenting opinion that described the federal government's request as "hopelessly tardy."
"I can understand the desire of my conscientious colleagues to make sure that every party with a putative interest is adequately heard and that every relevant point of law and pertinent fact is considered," Smith wrote. "I also appreciate that some may view the United States as the '800-pound gorilla' that cannot be turned away. But the interests of justice, including the worthy goals my colleagues pursue, are being, and can be, fully served without the formal intervention of the United States."
Smith emphasized that the United States should have acted two years earlier if it wanted to intervene, and that allowing it to do so at this point imposes an unnecessary burden on the proceedings.
"Although there are many instances in which participation by the United States is required, necessary, or helpful, this is not one of those times," Smith wrote.
The United States wasted no time, filing its complaint in intervention Wednesday.