The Supreme Court’s voting rights decision this week dealt with a situation very different from Port Chester’s, but the village’s attorney is calling attention to a few lines within the opinion that he thinks have local implications.
Port Chester has already been found in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. Essentially, the judge ruled that the deck is stacked against village board candidates who are favored by Hispanic voters; the at-large system diminishes their political clout. So the village is only awaiting a ruling on how its village trustee elections should be remedied. As Randolph McLaughlin, attorney for one of the plaintiffs, told me yesterday, “It’s a dead issue. The only issue before this court right now is whether to create districts or not.”
But as we reported, the Republican challenger for mayor is talking about a possible appeal if the village is ordered to create single-member districts. And this week, attorneys Aldo Vitagliano and Anthony Piscionere, who represent the village, contacted us and said the Supreme Court decision cast doubt on the local ruling.
Piscionere pointed to an aside in the written decision by Justice Kennedy. It has to do with bloc voting by the white majority.
One of the things that the Justice Department had to prove in Port Chester was that the white majority was voting sufficiently as a bloc to defeat the candidates preferred by minorities — Hispanics, in this case.
In the North Carolina case that went to the Supreme Court, Justice Kennedy raised questions about whether the bloc-voting requirement had been met: “(We are skeptical that the bloc-voting test could be satisfied here, for example, where minority voters in District 18 cannot elect their candidate of choice without support from almost 20 percent of white voters….”
Piscionere pointed to evidence that Hispanic-preferred candidates in Port Chester, such as Cesar Ruiz, gained more than 30 percent of the white vote under the old system. He said, “This is the first case that I’ve ever seen (from the Supreme Court, he clarified) that has quantified the level of white bloc voting that should be looked at.” Piscionere had not yet decided whether to raise the issue with U.S. District Judge Stephen Robinson. Here was his formal comment:
The Supreme Court today decided a Voting Rights case which has implications for the Port Chester Voting Rights case. The Court decision casts serious doubt on a key element of the Government’s case and the Court’s decision on liability. The government contended and the Court found the presence of white bloc voting in Port Chester and decided the third Gingles prong against the Village.
Today’s Supreme Court decision questions how a plaintiff could satisfy the third Gingles prong when a minority preferred candidate of choice had support from almost 20% of white voters. In the Port Chester case, Cesar Ruiz and other minority preferred candidates received support from well in excess of 33% of white Port Chester voters.
McLaughlin, who is representing plaintiff Ruiz, said he wouldn’t hang his hat on that argument:
This case (USA vs. Port Chester) asked the question, ‘Has the white community historically over time voted in such a fashion as to defeat minority-preferred candidates?’ The answer to that question is yes, yes and yes.
(Photo: Tom Nycz/The Journal News)