Before interpreting legal cases, we recommend reading them carefully

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We finally found a little time to read Judge Sim Lake’s thorough, meticulously crafted decision on the redistricting lawsuit brought against the City of Houston by Vidal Martinez and Carroll Robinson.

If you haven’t had a chance, it’s really worth the read, first for historical purposes (there is some excellent background on Houston and Texas as related to the Voting Rights act) and second because it truly is a meticulously crafted, well argued refusal to stretch the Voting Rights Act and the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments beyond reasonable limits.

Unfortunately, if you read Bradley Olson’s coverage for the Chronicle instead of the decision itself, you got a much different interpretation of the case:

The lawsuit argued the city was violating its own charter by refusing to redistrict and add two council districts when its population passed the 2.1 million threshhold in late 2006.

U.S. District Judge Sim Lake rejected that contention, finding the plaintiffs had failed to show the city’s charter compelled redistricting.

Two sentences, two dead-wrong assertions.

The lawsuit argued for relief under the Voting Rights Act and the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, not the City Charter per se. And Judge Lake rejected those arguments, without the need to reach any judgment on the requirements of the City Charter itself.

Don’t believe my interpretation? Fine. Here’s Judge Lake, on pages 7-8 of the opinion:

The plaintiffs do not allege that they are entitled to relief based on a violation of the City Charter, nor do they ask this court to order the City to comply with its Charter. The plaintiffs’ claims for relief are instead based only on alleged violations of rights secured by federal statutes and the federal Constitution.

Judge Lake rejected those claims on federal grounds, of course, dismissing the case.

Olson apparently isn’t the only local journalist who didn’t read the decision carefully. Ann Raber at Texas Watchdog offered this strange assessment:

Federal District Judge Sim Lake’s decision hinged on the need for an official, accurate count of the population and demographic information.

No it didn’t.

When interpreting legal cases, there’s really no substitute for reading extra carefully (or perhaps just reading in the first place). Otherwise, silly preventable errors can result.


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Kevin Whited
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Kevin Whited is co-founder and publisher of blogHOUSTON. Follow him on twitter: @PubliusTX