The U.S. Attorney General’s Office, heading up the Department of Justice, filed for, and received, temporary restraining order barring the Beaumont Independent School District (BISD) from implementing voting changes ordered by Texas 9th Court of Appeals. The U.S Attorney General’s Office claimed jurisdiction pursuant to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires that any voting procedure changes in Texas be signed off on by the DOJ.
The 9th Court of Appeals had ruled at the end of March that BISD utilize a newly drawn district map produced in accordance with federal law requiring revision after each census – the most recent census being that of 2010. The court further ruled that all the new districts be subject to the election process at the upcoming May election and with the incumbents from three of the new districts failing to file for those positions, the current board members would be removed from their posts with the only named candidates for those seats being ruled uncontested victors.
Assistant Attorney General Civil Rights Division Thomas Perez penned the order to stop the Court of Appeals’ ruling, as he did the preliminary ruling for BISD’s proposed changed to institute at-large representation. At that time, in December 2012, Perez wrote that voters’ wishes to make the change from seven single-member districts (7-0) to that of five single-member districts with two at-large representatives (5-2) would be “retrogressive” to minority voters and subsequently denied the change. Perez is also denying changes instituted by the 9th Court of Appeals, as exemplified in his recent restraining order request and denial of clearance for BISD to institute the court-ordered changes.
Perez held that Rule 65 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure gave his office the power to “respectfully move for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction barring implementation by the Beaumont Independent School District (BISD) of voting changes submitted to this Court for preclearance pursuant to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.”
Perez stated that on April 8, the Attorney General interposed an objection to the use of certain state court-adopted procedures for conducting the May 2013 BISD election for trustee Districts 1, 2, 3, and 5 — including truncation of incumbents’ terms from four years to two years — and changes to the candidate qualification procedures for those districts.
“The Attorney General determined that the BISD had failed to meet its burden under Section 5 of proving that these voting changes would not have a discriminatory effect. The Attorney General also advised BISD that he could not complete Section 5 review of the state-court-adopted redistricting plan without additional information.”
Information requested by Perez included voting patterns broken down by race for the last 10 years, candidates for local offices broken down by race for the last 10 years, and racial tallies for voters voting for each candidate for the same time frame. Perez further added that his office would not make any formal ruling on BISD’s clearance status to hold an election until counsel for BISD submitted the requested materials. BISD has 60 days to submit the information, then the DOJ would have an additional 60 days to make a decision.
BISD trustees met with their legal counsel, Melody Chappell, on April 9 to discuss the DOJ’s actions. According to trustee Mike Neil, the BISD election scheduled for May might not happen at all.
“I just don’t know,” he said. “Everything about this election seems to change from day to day.”
Announcements from the entirety of the BISD Board of Trustees is that the May school board election is canceled until further notice.