Five Republican justices of the peace designed a new Tarrant County precinct map in secret and secured the blessing of three Republican county commissioners in violation of Texas’ Open Meetings Act, according to a new lawsuit filed by a veteran Fort Worth attorney.
In light of Texas’ changing demographics — 95% of new Texans over the past decade, according to the most recent U.S. Census data, are people of color, who generally don’t vote Republican — local elected Republicans appear to be twisting the law to stay in office, claims Steve Maxwell.
“Shameful” is the word the board-certified trial lawyer used to describe the situation to us.
Five “justices of the peace had seen their prospects for future office wane in the face of increases in Tarrant County’s minority population,” read the court documents tied to Maxwell’s lawsuit, “and they needed [three of Tarrant County’s five] commissioners’ help to dilute this minority, thereby increasing their chances of retaining their justices of the peace positions.”
Maxwell alleges that the five white Republican JPs schemed with three white Republican commissioners to gerrymander their way into future office while eliminating political opponents for two incumbent white Republican JPs.
The political power of new, ethnic-minority Texans has been diluted across the state. Republican lawmakers recently used their elected positions to redistrict Texas’ congressional and state district maps to marginalize minority representation. The state’s two new congressional districts will represent swaths of Texas that are primarily white and primarily Republican.
Citing violations of the Voting Rights Act, the U.S. Justice Department filed suit on Monday to freeze the implementation of Texas’ gerrymandered maps, and Maxwell’s lawsuit aims to similarly protect the voting rights of local Black and Latinx residents.
In the new litigation, Maxwell questions the legality of a vote on Nov. 9 by Tarrant County’s five commissioners. Five white Republican JPs presented to the commissioners a plan for an eight-precinct map that defines where the county’s eight JPs and eight constables could run for office and serve. After considerable public comments against adopting the map, Commissioner Gary Fickes motioned for a vote that was seconded by Commissioner J.D. Johnson with the third vote coming from county head Glen Whitley.
In a 3-1 vote along party lines, the commissioners court adopted the new map. Devon Allen, one of two Black commissioners, abstained.
The county did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
In the court documents, Maxwell describes the timeline that led to the Nov. 9 commissioners’ meeting.
“On the Friday before the Nov. 9 meeting, a proposed agenda was circulated amongst the commissioners, which showed no discussion or action relating to redistricting,” the document reads. “At 4:33 p.m., an agenda item was added. No mention was made of any map, and no map was included with the agenda despite the fact that the Republican commissioners were in possession” of the map.
Democratic commissioner Allen did not see the map until the Nov. 9 meeting, according to the court filing.
In the court document, Maxwell says the plaintiffs in the case can prove that commissioners Fickes, Johnson, and Whitley discussed the new map with one or more JPs outside of public meetings. Discussions of public matters behind closed doors by certain public officials are violations of Texas’ Open Meetings Act.
In the lawsuit, Maxwell requests that a temporary restraining order be placed on the JP map and that the courts void the commissioners court’s order that adopted the new map.
The plaintiffs in the case include Democrat JPs Sergio De Leon and Lisa Woodard and Democrat constables Michael Campbell, Sandra Lee, Robert McGinty, and Pedro Munoz, among others. The defendants listed are Tarrant County’s three Republican commissioners.