The U.S. Justice Department says part of Yakima’s defense against an ACLU voting rights lawsuit “lacks merit,” according to a brief filed in federal court Friday.
The brief was filed in response to a motion from the city of Yakima asking the judge to dismiss the case without a trial through summary judgment.
Yakima’s attorneys argue an ACLU expert witness’ examples of how City Council elections could be redistricted exclude criteria required by the federal Voting Rights Act, making them unconstitutional. But the Justice Department disagrees in a 13-page brief that says little else about the case, which has been in litigation since August 2012.
The ACLU came up with seven redistricting proposals, including at least one Latino majority district in each example. Five of the proposed district maps were based on general population and two were based on citizen voting age population.
But Yakima said the ACLU failed to meet requirements outlined in case precedent by not basing its examples on both general population and citizen voting-age population. The Justice Department says the city can’t back up that claim.
“No court has ever required a plaintiff to use anything other than total population as the basis for apportioning single-member districts,” the Justice Department wrote.
The brief goes on to provide examples of court cases supporting voting districts based solely on total population, not both criteria as the city argues.
“As the population of a district changes, the figures on which apportionment is based are inherently imprecise,” federal attorneys wrote. “The inhabitants of a district who at the time of apportionment may not be citizens or eligible to vote may become eligible voters before reapportionment occurs.”
The question of methodology is just one of several challenges the city of Yakima has to the ACLU’s proposal, which would end an almost 40-year practice of electing council members through a hybrid system of district and at-large voting for its seven members.
The Department of Justice does not address the crux of Yakima’s argument against the ACLU plan, which alleges the city’s Latinos outside of minority majority districts would become marginalized under redistricting.
Yakima has spent $743,347 so far to defend the case since the ACLU filed suit two years ago on behalf of former City Council candidate Rogelio Montes and resident Mateo Arteaga.
The trial date is tentatively set for Sept. 22 at the William O. Douglas Federal Building in Yakima. The case will be argued in front of Judge Thomas O. Rice of the federal Eastern District Court of Washington.