THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS
BYLINE: STEVE THOMPSON, STAFF WRITER STHOMPSON@DALLASNEWS.COM
Opponents of how Dallas City Council members redrew their 14 voting districts last year filed a lawsuit in federal court Tuesday, alleging that the city’s new map discriminates against Hispanic voters.
The lawsuit asks the court to strike down the map – which was approved in a 9-6 council vote last October and later cleared by the Justice Department – and draw a new one “that does not dilute the minority voting strength nor violate the Voting Rights Act.”
City officials defended the new voting map, saying it “complies with the law and protects the rights of all voters.”
“The City Council has adopted this plan and the city will defend it,” city spokesman Frank Librio said in an email.
The lawsuit was filed by Rolando Rios, a San Antonio attorney who has been deeply involved in voting rights litigation for more than 20 years. He did not return a call for comment Tuesday but said in an email that he plans to hold a press conference at 10 a.m. Wednesday in front of Dallas City Hall.
It wasn’t clear Tuesday what organizations are funding the lawsuit, but Hispanic advocates have promised it since the council’s vote.
“Dallas City Hall, we will fight you, and we will win!” vowed attorney Domingo Garcia during an October rally at City Hall.
Garcia, a former council member who served on the city’s redistricting commission, competed in the runoff Tuesday for North Texas’ new congressional seat. He could not be reached for comment.
The lawsuit’s plaintiffs are two Dallas residents, Hilda Ramirez Duarte and Renato de los Santos.
The map approved by the council, brokered by Mayor Mike Rawlings after fierce debate split along racial lines, will probably result in four council seats held by blacks, three by Hispanics and seven by whites – the same makeup as for the past decade.
Those who have promised to fight the map point to the explosive population growth of Hispanics, who make up 42 percent of the city’s population.
But another number could factor heavily in the political and legal debate to come: the number of Hispanics with the right to vote.
Of the roughly 330,000 adult Hispanics who live in Dallas, only about 140,000 are U.S. citizens eligible to vote, according to a recent estimate by the Census Bureau.
In court, the number of eligible Hispanic voters – called the citizen voting-age population – is likely to be a focus of debate.
Hispanic leaders argue against using the number because it produces a lower Hispanic population by excluding noncitizens. They say the Census Bureau’s estimate of adult Hispanic citizens is deeply flawed.
City officials noted Tuesday that the U.S. Department of Justice approved the city’s plan after reviewing it for fairness to the city’s ethnic groups. Librio’s statement pointed out that the new map establishes four districts where Hispanics comprise at least 62.5 percent of the population.
Rawlings said Tuesday that he’d like to see a map that everyone could agree on, one that would create four likely Hispanic seats and four likely black seats. But so far, he said, no one has come forward with one.
“It’s easy to throw stones,” he said. “It’s tough to build this puzzle.”
Copyright 2012 THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS