Chris Van Horne, NBC 5 Fort Worth Reporter
The federal government gave the green light to Fort Worth's redistricting plans but the map that goes into effect right away may still face legal challenges.
The federal government has given the green light to Fort Worth's redistricting plans. While that map goes into effect right away, the city may still face legal challenges.
The announcement was not listed on the city council agendas on Tuesday, but the letter was an important step.
In the letter from the U.S. Department of Justice, it says the U.S. Attorney General did not object to the redistricting map submitted in August. The letter says the attorney general does not object to the change in maps under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, but that opinion does not prevent any litigation.
"This is a good omen that we're on the right track and that we've got equitable representation," said Mayor Betsy Price.
But Price and the rest of the city council are well aware that a federal lawsuit blocking the map is possible.
"We're not surprised," said Fernando Florez, the redistricting chair of the United Hispanic Council of Tarrant County. "We're a little bit disappointed, but we were sort of suspecting this. It's just a step in the process that we have to go through."
Florez had not seen the letter or heard the news until contacted by the media. He says the Hispanic Council board will likely meet with its attorney to see what the next course of action. Florez though expects a suit to be filed.
"Now we're on to the next phase, which is to go to court and sue the city because we have a strong case," said Florez. "I think we have an excellent chance of winning this, we're not going to give up, it's just a bump in the road."
And as confident as Florez is in his organizations chances if this goes to court, so is most of the city council.
Joel Burns' district nine is at the center of Florez's argument. Florez and the UHC says several predominantly white precincts in that district outweigh and deter the votes of primarily Hispanic districts. Those precincts, Florez argues, essentially limit the opportunities for Hispanics to elect one of their own.
Burns, however, disagrees. He points out he won with a coalition of supporters when elected and that Florez is one of just two constituents to raise any concerns.
"If there is any sort of a lawsuit, I think it will be met with the same response in the courts that the justice department has had," said Burns. "That this is a sound plan, it's a good plan. The district I represent goes from a 54-percent Hispanic majority district to 58-percent Hispanic majority district, it's a good plan for Fort Worth."
But the one dissenting vote in July, when the map was approved 8-1, does think the Hispanic Council has a case.
"The claim would be that in a city that is 34-percent Hispanic, you really only have one district, council district two, where the Hispanic community can elect a candidate of their choice," councilman Sal Espino said.
Espino maintains he wanted a 10-1 council format, not the current 8-1. He disagrees with the city attorney and redistricting attorney's opinion that the city's map will pass Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.
While we'll have to see if, and how, this plays out in federal court everyone can agree on one thing.
"As of now this is the map," says Espino.
"This is the map that we'll be using in May," said Burns.
That is, at least, until a federal judge, says other wise.