Harding v. Cnty. of Dall., Civil Action No. 3:15-CV-0131-D

CourtUnited States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Northern District of Texas
Citation336 F.Supp.3d 677
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 3:15-CV-0131-D
Parties Anne HARDING, et al., Plaintiffs, v. COUNTY OF DALLAS, TEXAS, et al., Defendants.
Decision Date23 August 2018

Daniel I. Morenoff, The Morenoff Firm, PLLC, Dallas, TX, Elizabeth Alvarez, Law Office of Elizabeth Alvarez, Plano, TX, for Plaintiffs.

Chad W. Dunn, K. Scott Brazil, Brazil & Dunn, Houston, TX, Gerald Hebert, Law Office of J. Gerald Hebert, Alexandria, VA, Peter L. Harlan, Dallas County District Attorney's Office, Dallas, TX, Rolando Leo Rios, Law Office of Rolando L. Rios, San Antonio, TX, for Defendants.



This is a suit by Anglo voters of Dallas County, Texas who maintain that their rights under § 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 ("VRA"), 52 U.S.C. § 10301 et seq. , and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment have been violated by the absence of a second county commissioner district that is capable of electing a representative of their choice: an Anglo Republican. Following a bench trial, and for the reasons explained,1 the court holds that plaintiffs have failed to prove that, were a second Anglo majority district drawn, Anglos would possess the potential to elect an Anglo Republican. In short, this is because the Anglo citizen voting age population ("CVAP") of Dallas County contains a significant number of persons (roughly 23%) who vote Democrat. Accordingly, because plaintiffs cannot prevail on their claims under § 2 of the VRA and the Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection Clause, defendants are entitled to judgment dismissing this action with prejudice.


Plaintiffs Anne Harding ("Harding"), Gregory R. Jacobs ("Jacobs"), Holly Knight Morse ("Morse"), and Johannes Peter Schroer ("Schroer"), Anglo residents2 of Dallas County, Texas, bring this suit challenging the 2011 map ("2011 Map") for electing commissioners of the Dallas County Commissioners Court ("Commissioners Court"). Their claims that were tried are under § 2 of the VRA and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, alleging intentional and "effects" vote dilution as a result of the redistricting in 2011 of commissioner districts.

Dallas County is governed by a Commissioners Court comprised of four county commissioners, who are elected from single member districts, and a county judge, who is elected countywide. See Tex. Const. art V, § 18 (b). Following the 2010 Census, Dallas County Judge Clay Lewis Jenkins ("Judge Jenkins") and then-county commissioners Maurine Dickey ("Commissioner Dickey"), Mike Cantrell ("Commissioner Cantrell"), John Wiley Price ("Commissioner Price"), and Dr. Elba Garcia ("Commissioner Garcia") determined that it was necessary to redraw district lines because the map drawn after the prior census (the "Benchmark Map") had become malapportioned. The Commissioners Court concluded that the Benchmark Map violated the one-person, one-vote requirement of the Equal Protection Clause because Dallas County's population had grown disproportionately in Commissioners Court districts ("CCDs") 3 and 4.

The Commissioners Court retained J. Gerald Hebert, Esquire ("Hebert") and Rolando L. Rios, Esquire ("Rios") as outside redistricting counsel. Hebert, in turn, employed Matt Angle ("Angle"), an expert on North Texas geography and demographics, to assist in drawing and presenting redrawn district maps for consideration. During an executive session, the Commissioners Court reviewed the configuration, demographics, and political performance of the Benchmark Map and shared their various redistricting goals (including, for example, Commissioner Dickey's desire that there be a "conservative," or "Tea Party" district). They directed Hebert and Rios to draft and present specific redistricting criteria for the Commissioners Court to consider, and they directed Angle to configure demonstration plans for their review.

The Commissioners Court unanimously adopted Commissioner Precinct Redistricting Criteria ("Redistricting Criteria") that they determined "would help facilitate public participation and help ensure that any adopted redistricting plans will be consistent with all applicable law." Ps. Tr. Ex. 15 at 1.3

Using the Redistricting Criteria, Angle prepared four demonstration maps that he presented to the Commissioners Court during a closed session meeting. After considering the merits of each, the Commissioners decided to present only one map ("Map A"), the predecessor to the map that was ultimately adopted, to the public for consideration. The Commissioners Court then provided notice of, and held a series of, three public hearings related to the redistricting of the CCDs.4

During the redistricting process, Commissioner Dickey, a Republican, announced that she would not seek reelection. Before the Commissioners Court voted on Map A, Commissioner Price contacted Angle and asked him to prepare an amendment that, inter alia , switched the numbering of CCDs 1 and 2 and adjusted the boundaries between CCDs 1 and 2 in the Oak Lawn area in order to place Commissioner Dickey's home in the renumbered CCD 1. As a result of the exchange in district numbers, it was unnecessary for incumbent Commissioner Cantrell to stand for reelection until 2014 (rather than 2012), and Commissioner Dickey's vacated seat was up for election in 2012.

By a vote of three to one (Commissioner Dickey did not vote), the Commissioners Court adopted the 2011 Map, which Angle had drawn, as the new commissioner districts. The Commissioners Court then submitted the 2011 Map to the U.S. Department of Justice for preclearance under § 5 of the VRA, which was then still in effect.5 The submission stated, inter alia :

The new Commissioner Precinct map maintains two current minority opportunity precincts and creates a new minority opportunity precinct in Precinct 1. Specifically, the new map maintains Precinct 3 as an African American opportunity precinct. The African American population is increased in this precinct from 45.6% to 47.9%. Precinct 4 which is currently represented by a Hispanic, who was the candidate of choice of minority voters in 2010, has not been retrogressed. In fact, the current Precinct 4 is 49.3% Hispanic and 65.5% Black plus Hispanic. The new Precinct 4 is 57.9% Hispanic and 72.1% Black plus Hispanic. Precinct 1 is a new minority opportunity precinct. Precinct 1 has a Hispanic population of 48.0% and is 68.4% Black plus Hispanic.

Ps. Tr. Ex. 16 at 4.

The current composition of the Commissioners Court, elected under the 2011 Map, is as follows: Dr. Theresa Daniel ("Commissioner Daniel") (CCD 1, Democrat); Commissioner Cantrell (CCD 2, Republican); Commissioner Price (CCD 3, Democrat); Commissioner Garcia (CCD 4, Democrat); and Judge Jenkins (Democrat). Two of the four commissioners (Commissioners Cantrell and Daniel) are Anglo, as is Judge Jenkins.

Plaintiffs Harding, Jacobs, Schroer, Ray Huebner ("Huebner"), and Morgan McComb ("McComb")6 filed this lawsuit against defendants County of Dallas, Texas, Judge Jenkins, and Commissioners Daniel, Cantrell, Price, and Garcia,7 alleging claims under § 2 of the VRA and under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In Harding v. County of Dallas, Texas , 2018 WL 1157166 (N.D. Tex. Mar. 5, 2018) (Fitzwater, J.) (" Harding II "), the court dismissed plaintiffs' racial gerrymandering and alternative equal protection claims. Id. at *9-10. The case then proceeded to trial on the two remaining claims.


Before turning to the merits, the court addresses defendants' challenge to plaintiffs' standing.


"Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, and absent jurisdiction conferred by statute, lack the power to adjudicate claims." Stockman v. Fed. Election Comm'n , 138 F.3d 144, 151 (5th Cir. 1998). It is well settled that "the issue of standing is one of subject matter jurisdiction." Cobb v. Cent. States , 461 F.3d 632, 635 (5th Cir. 2006). The doctrine of standing addresses the question of who may properly bring suit in federal court, and "is an essential and unchanging part of the case-or-controversy requirement of Article III." Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife , 504 U.S. 555, 560, 112 S.Ct. 2130, 119 L.Ed.2d 351 (1992). It "involves both constitutional limitations on federal-court jurisdiction and prudential limitations on its exercise." Warth v. Seldin , 422 U.S. 490, 498, 95 S.Ct. 2197, 45 L.Ed.2d 343 (1975). To establish standing, a plaintiff must meet both constitutional and prudential requirements. See, e.g., Procter & Gamble Co. v. Amway Corp. , 242 F.3d 539, 560 (5th Cir. 2001).

The only issue in this case is constitutional standing, which requires that a litigant establish three elements: (1) injury-in-fact that is concrete and actual or imminent, not hypothetical; (2) a fairly traceable causal link between the injury and the defendant's actions; and (3) that the injury will likely be redressed by a favorable decision. E.g., Little v. KPMG LLP , 575 F.3d 533, 540 (5th Cir. 2009). To obtain injunctive relief, a plaintiff must be "likely to suffer future injury." City of L.A. v. Lyons , 461 U.S. 95, 105, 103 S.Ct. 1660, 75 L.Ed.2d 675 (1983). "Past exposure to illegal conduct does not in itself show a present case or controversy regarding injunctive relief[.]" O'Shea v. Littleton , 414 U.S. 488, 495, 94 S.Ct. 669, 38 L.Ed.2d 674 (1974). The threat of future injury to the plaintiff "must be both real and immediate, not conjectural or hypothetical." Lyons , 461 U.S. at 102, 103 S.Ct. 1660 (internal quotation marks omitted).


Defendants maintain that plaintiffs have failed to offer any evidence that they suffered a cognizable injury—i.e., a particularized harm they experienced on account of their race—that is redressable by their legal claims. They contend that

[b]ecause the only injury identified by plaintiffs was a desire for more conservative or Republican districts, and because they have not alleged a claim for

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