Federal Court Rules On Discrimination Against Hispanic Voters In Violation Of Voting Rights Act

LAWFUEL – Legal Newswire – MICHAEL J. GARCIA, the United States Attorney for the
Southern District of New York, and GRACE CHUNG BECKER, the Acting
Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Rights Division of the
United States Department of Justice, announced that a federal judge
in White Plains, New York, has ruled that the at-large system of
election used by the Village of Port Chester, New York, to elect
its Trustees violates the Voting Rights Act because it
discriminates against Hispanics.

In a 56-page decision dated January 17, 2008, and
released on January 22, 2008, United State District Judge STEPHEN
C. ROBINSON ruled that after performing a “thorough and careful
analysis,” he concluded that “the Village of Port Chester’s atlarge
system for electing its Board of Trustees violates Section 2
of the Voting Rights Act.”

The United States filed a Complaint on December 15, 2006,
alleging that Port Chester’s at-large election system diluted the
voting strength of the Village’s Hispanic citizens. The same day,
the United States filed a motion to enjoin Port Chester from using
its at-large system on March 20, 2007, to elect two new trustees.
On March 2, 2007, following a 10-day hearing, Judge ROBINSON issued
a preliminary injunction enjoining Port Chester from proceeding
with its March 20, 2007 election, finding that the United States
had shown that it was likely to prevail on its claim. The Court’s
decision today came after an additional five days of testimony and
post-trial briefing.

According to the evidence at trial, and as cited in Judge
ROBINSON’s opinion, the 2000 census shows that almost half of Port
Chester’s residents, and 22% of Port Chester’s citizens of voting
age, were Hispanic. By July 2006, the number of Hispanic citizens
of voting age had increased to about 28%. Despite these figures,
no Hispanic has ever been elected to Port Chester’s municipal
legislature, the six-member Board of Trustees. Indeed, no Hispanic
has ever been elected to any public office in Port Chester, despite
the fact that Hispanic candidates have run for office 6 times –
twice for the Board of Trustees, and 4 times for the Port Chester
Board of Education, which manages a school system that is
overwhelmingly Hispanic.

In ruling for the United States, the Court also found

• a six-district plan could be drawn for Port Chester in
which Hispanics would constitute a majority of the
citizen voting age population in at least one district;
• Hispanics in Port Chester voted cohesively for their
candidates of choice and these candidates of choice were
routinely defeated;
• voting in Port Chester is polarized by ethnicity;
• Hispanics in Port Chester suffered from the lingering
effects of discrimination that negatively affected their
ability to participate in the political process; and
• racial appeals – in particular an anti-Hispanic flyer in
the 2007 Mayoral race – had marred recent political

Mr. GARCIA stated: “Judge Robinson noted in his
decision that a citizen, later appointed to Port Chester’s Voting
Rights Commission, argued that Port Chester should be exempted
from the application of the federal Voting Rights Act.
Fortunately for the minority citizens of that Village, whose
federally protected voting rights were diluted by Port Chester’s
at-large election system, the Act applies in full force there, as
it does in every municipality. We hope that Port Chester will
move forward and work with us to develop a district-based
election system that remedies the violation of the Voting Rights
Act that Judge Robinson has found.”

“We are very pleased with the Court’s ruling that Port
Chester’s election system violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights
Act,” said GRACE CHUNG BECKER, the Acting Assistant Attorney
General for the Civil Rights Division. “This ruling will compel
Port Chester to adopt an electoral shystem that will enable
Hispanic voters to participate with all other voters as equals in
the electoral process.”

The Court ordered the parties to file proposed remedial
plans in writing with the Court within three weeks, and stated
that the Court would thereafter schedule a one-day hearing on the
proposed remedies.

Assistant United States Attorney DAVID J. KENNEDY of
the Southern District of New York and Department of Justice Trial
Attorney TIMOTHY F. MELLETT are handling the case.
Additional information about the Voting Rights Act and
other federal voting laws is available on the Department of
Justice website at www.usdoj.gov/crt/voting/index.htm.
08-16 ###

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