Before June 25, the Justice Dept. had many balls in the air as it negotiated hundreds of preclearance submissions from local jurisdictions covered under section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. These entities seek approval for any and all election changes; from redistricting maps of council districts to polling place changes. The Supreme Court changed all of that when it invalidated the coverage formula for section 5, effectively dropping all of those balls the Justice Dept. had in the air.
The resulting mess from the sudden halt of an extensive administrative reporting system is bound to have some unforeseen outcomes. The Beaumont ISD school board in Beaumont, Texas is a case in point. It is currently embroiled in a legal fight with several individuals who filed their candidacy for seats on the board. The controversy involves a redistricting plan submitted to and rejected by the Justice Dept., a state court ruling rejecting the board’s staggered election system and three African-American incumbents who did not file for re-election simply because their seats were not intended to be up for reelection.
In May of this year, a D.C. federal court resolved the issue after the Justice Dept. intervened using its authority under section 5, and then –you guessed it- when the Supreme Court decided Shelby in June, the case was thrust into legal chaos once again as it would appear that both the D.C. court and Dept. lacked authority once the Supreme Court effectively ended preclearance indefinitely.
Without federal intervention, three African-American incumbents could lose their seats without an election even taking place. The moral to this rather convoluted chain of events is that the sudden cessation of preclearance activity has great potential to create unforeseen legal predicaments for many local authorities with pending preclearance submissions and/or legal controversies. For more on this “odd twist,” read the Texas Redistricting blog.