Following the May 17 decision from Judge Lora Livingston, Austin's November election features only the positions of mayor and council member for Districts 1, 3, 5, 8 and 9 on the ballot. In addition to those seats, the lawsuit had requested an expanded election that would have thrust Council Members Vanessa Fuentes, Chito Vela, Mackenzie Kelly, Leslie Pool and Alison Alter into unexpected midterm re-election races for the chance to serve out the remainder of their current terms.
The lawsuit was filed by a group of 13 residents who were shifted between council districts after boundary lines were redrawn last fall during the city's redistricting—the first to take place since voters approved a 10-1 geographic council system. The residents, represented by attorney Bill Aleshire, claimed that thousands of voters who were moved from one district to another were disenfranchised through that process. Attorneys for the city argued that plaintiffs did not have standing to bring their complaint, and that Austin's redistricting and council election systems do not infringe on voters' rights.
Austin officials serve on staggered terms, and elections for half of all council seats take place every two years. The lawsuit held that, due to redistricting, any voters moved into a council district without an election this fall should still have the opportunity to vote. Plaintiffs asked for all 11 council positions to be placed on this November's ballot, which Aleshire had said would grant all residents an equal chance to vote for someone who would represent them for at least two years.
In a statement, the city said the May 17 decision, which Livingston issued without any additional commentary, backs up Austin's argument that its processes do not violate voting protections in the state constitution.
"We are pleased with the judge’s ruling that confirms our charter requirement for staggered terms, originally passed by Austin voters, complies with the law," a city spokesperson said.
Aleshire said he was "disappointed" by the outcome and awaits possible further legal action on the case.
"We never challenged the constitutionality of staggered terms; in fact, we sought to preserve it by allowing everyone a chance to vote," Aleshire said in an email. "The only thing worse than denying the 'consent of the governed' by political gerrymandering is outright denying redistricted voters the right to vote on who represents them. One way or the other, through the courts or through legislation, this problem needs to be solved."
Despite Livingston's May ruling, the legal question raised by the resident plaintiffs may not be resolved. Aleshire had also filed the lawsuit in higher courts prior to the May events in Travis County ahead of a possible appeal by either side, a move he said he made to speed up any further legal proceedings this summer before Austin's August filing deadline for City Council candidates.
The Third Court of Appeals already declined to take up the lawsuit, and the case is now in line for review by the Texas Supreme Court. If enough justices decide to consider the issue, further proceedings are likely weeks or months away.