A group of Latino voters has filed a lawsuit, charging that Texas' system of electing statewide judges violates federal law.
The Supreme Court of Texas and the state's Court of Criminal Appeals each seats nine judges, chosen in at-large, partisan elections. Currently, there are only two Hispanic judges on those top two courts, one on each, even though Latino citizens make up more than a quarter of Texas' voting age population.
"Our analysis of the elections in Texas for those two courts shows that there's a high degree of racially polarized voting," says attorney Jose Garza, who filed the suit in a U.S. district court in Corpus Christi.
Garza says the state's current method of electing judges violates the Voting Rights Act by diluting Latinos' voting power. "There have been very few Latino elected candidates to those courts, and in the last couple of decades, every candidate that has been the choice of Latino voters has lost," he says.
According the lawsuit, only five out of the 76 justices to serve on the Texas Supreme Court since 1945 have been Latinos, while only two of the 48 judges to serve on the Court of Criminal Appeals over the same period have been Latinos.
The suit aims to replace the at-large system with one that elects judges by single-member geographic districts. It names Governor Greg Abbott and Secretary of State Carlos Cascos as co-defendants. Houston Public Media reached out to both Abbott's and Cascos' offices, as well as that of State Attorney General Ken Paxton for this story. All three offices declined to comment.