The Justice Department “pre-cleared” Fort Worth’s proposed City Council redistricting maps, the city disclosed Tuesday. The city expected to have them in place for next year’s elections.
Hispanic groups have protested the map, arguing they left Hispanics worse off than the previous map, a concept called “retrogression.” Groups could still sue to try and block the implementation of the maps.
“In a city that is 34 percent Hispanic, you really only have the one district where Hispanics can elect a candidate of choice,” Councilman Sal Espino, who represents Fort Worth’s North Side District 2, said after an assistant city attorney disclosed the Justice Department’s letter during a morning council meeting.
Espino has favored going from eight council districts and the at-large-elected mayor to 10 council districts and the mayor.
Hispanic groups focused on the Near South Side District 9 of Councilman Joel Burns, saying heavily white voting patterns bar Hispanics from winning in the district, even though the new map takes Hispanic representation there to 58 percent from 54 percent.
The United Hispanic Council has said it would consider suing if the Justice Department pre-cleared the maps.
The attorney general’s letter said the Justice Department had no objection to the Fort Worth maps under the section of the Voting Rights Act that bars “retrogression.”
Espino said he believes Hispanics’ better argument could be made under a section of the act that bars “dilution.”
“It remains to be seen what the United Hispanic Coalition, LULAC, some of the other groups will do,” Espino said.
During the redistricting process leading up to the proposed map, the United Hispanic Council sought to have the heavily white neigthborhoods of Berkeley, Mistletoe Heights, Park Hill and TCU removed from District 9 and drawn into a new South Side district that would extend from Interstate 30 to far south Fort Worth.
Burns said he believes the new map is fair.
“I think that any courts that look at this will share the same response the Justice Department did,” he said.
Burns has said he won election with a strong coalition of voters, including Hispanics.
“Literally, only two residents in my district expressed opposition,” Burns said.
Mayor Betsy Price said the Justice Department’s letter “means our redistricting issues are pretty settled.”
“It means the DOJ agrees with us that it’s an equal representation, and a fair representation for our citizens,” she said.
She defended the city’s redistricting process, saying, “We believe it was a very transparent process.”
- Scott Nishimura, Star-Telegram Fort Worth City Hall reporter