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LULAC sues Houston over lack of Latino representation on the City Council

Suzanne Gamboa

NBC News

Dec 5, 2022

The nation’s oldest Latino civil rights organization accused the city of Houston in a federal lawsuit of denying Latinos fair representation by allowing voters citywide to elect five council members.

The lawsuit filed Monday by the League of United Latin American Citizens alleges the use of at-large districts — where all voters across the city can vote for the candidates, instead of voters within a specific district — violates the Voting Rights Act. Elections in the city are deeply, racially polarized and Latinos' voting strength is diluted through the at-large election process, the lawsuit states.

"Houston's the only major city in Texas where five council members are elected at large and in essence, disenfranchising the Latino community," Domingo Garcia, LULAC president, said in a phone interview. "All the other major cities, Austin, El Paso, Fort Worth, Dallas, have all single member districts and have Latino representation that's reflective of their diversity. Houston only has one Latino on City Council."

The city has elected only two Hispanics through its at-large districts in its history, LULAC said in its lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Texas in Houston.

Houston is 44.5% Latino. It is Texas’ most populous city and the nation’s fourth most populous. The council controls a $5.7 billion budget, LULAC noted.

Houston officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.

The suit was filed on behalf of four registered voters from Houston — Cristina Acosta, Ivan Castillo, Anthony Rios and Ivan Sanchez — and also lists LULAC as a plaintiff.

The lawsuit notes that in 1979, Houston’s City Council went from almost all white male to a more diverse body after voters elected the first two women and first Mexican American to the council and tripled the number of Black council members.

Since then, only 11 Latinos have been elected or appointed to a single member district and only two have been elected to an at-large district, according to the LULAC lawsuit.

The lawsuit also challenges new boundaries drawn for single-member districts in the city's redistricting process.