SEATTLE – In a victory for the voters of Washington, a federal judge ruled Thursday that Washington state’s redistricting plan violates Section 2 of the federal Voting Rights Act (VRA) and dilutes the voting strength of Latino voters in the Yakima Valley region.
Campaign Legal Center (CLC), MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund), the UCLA Voting Rights Project, and attorney Edwardo Morfin of the Morfin Law Firm in Washington filed the lawsuit in January 2022 on behalf of individual Latino voters in the Yakima Valley area.
The case, Soto Palmer v. Hobbs, was the last racial vote dilution case to go to trial before the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed Section 2 of the VRA in June’s Allen v. Milligan decision.
“The State of Washington drew a legislative redistricting map that ignored Latinos’ immense growth in the Yakima Valley over the last decade and denied them the ability to elect representatives of their choosing,” said Ernest Herrera, MALDEF Western Regional Counsel. “Today’s decision is a first momentous step in addressing that injustice and protecting Latinos’ right to representation in Washington state government.”
“The Court’s ruling helps to ensure that Latino voters in the Yakima Valley and Pasco regions can make their voices heard,” said Mark Gaber, senior director of redistricting at Campaign Legal Center (CLC). “Multiple times before, federal and state courts invalidated election systems that discriminated against Yakima Valley’s Latino voters. After decades of racial discrimination with a long-lasting impact on the ability of Latino voters to participate in the political process, Latino voters in the region can now elect state legislators who will best serve their communities.”
“For the first time in Washington’s history, the historic Latino community in the Yakima Valley and Pasco region will be able to elect their preferred candidates to the State Legislature and have their voices heard,” said Sonni Waknin, Program Manager and Voting Rights Counsel at the UCLA Voting Rights Project (UCLA VRP). “This was the first statewide Federal Voting Rights Act lawsuit against Washington and the Court’s ruling affirms that voters must have real electoral opportunities, not just bare, ineffective districts.”
In November 2021, the Washington State Redistricting Commission drew its adopted state legislative district plan in such a way that Latino voters were not able to elect state legislative candidates of their choice in the 15th Legislative District. Specifically, the plan for Yakima Valley, which covers multiple counties with large Latino populations, dispersed Latino voters across several legislative districts with white majorities, a practice known as “cracking.”
In this lawsuit, attorneys successfully argued that the enacted Legislative District 15 violates Section 2 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on race, ethnicity and language. Commissioners should have initially drawn a legislative district that gave Latino voters an equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choice in the Yakima Valley. Now, because of this Court ruling, Latino voters in the region will be able to make their voices heard.
Read the decision here.