April 20, 2018/Blog

The New Texas | Our Movement Monday

In our series Our Movement Monday, we talk with Texas Democrats across our state about their work and the challenges facing their communities.

Chad has served as the General Counsel to the Texas Democratic Party since 2003. In that time the party has prevailed in numerous federal and state lawsuits protecting democratic candidates and voting rights. He is a nationally recognized expert in civil rights and is regularly asked to lecture at law schools and seminars around the country. He has tried over 50 cases, dozens of jury trials, dozens of appeals and has handled numerous cases at the U.S. Supreme Court, Texas Supreme Court and the Fifth Circuit. He recently argued, at the trial and the appeal levels, the Texas voter ID case.

In 2017, Texas Lawyer magazine nominated Chad for attorney of the year. He has been listed as a Super Lawyer for more than a decade. He is a member of the prestigious American Board of Trial Advocates which has stringent trial experience requirements in order to join. Chad has dedicated his career to protecting the voting rights of Texans and Americans.

 


 

Thank you for taking the time to chat with us today. Before we start, we’d like to applaud your work to protect everyone’s right to vote. Democracy only work when elections are free and fair — know that Texas Democrats everywhere are very grateful!?

Chad W. Dunn: Thank you. I am honored to do the work that I do for the people whom I do it for.

The Supreme Court is taking on the Texas redistricting case tomorrow. What’s at stake?

Chad W. Dunn: The voting rights of millions of Texans is at stake. In 2011, the Texas Legislature ignored Census data that showed most of the population growth in Texas was among Latino and African American communities and instead drew new districts to give Anglo voters even more political power. Courts have, time and again, struck down these measures and now we will see the Supreme Court’s take on it.

And you’ll be there representing Texans who’s communities were silenced by Republicans.

Chad W. Dunn: I represent the Texas Democratic Party and it’s millions of members in the case. In addition to targeting communities of color, Texas sought to disenfranchise support of the Democratic Party. In fact, Texas admits this in the case. Texas says that the discrimination it undertook against minority voters was really only an effort to target Democrats. Either way you look at, taking Texas at its word, the Legislature discriminated against voters and we are asking the Supreme Court to set it straight.

It is clear that Texas Republican politicians can’t be trusted to draw political maps without cheating. Why is our court system so crucial to stopping gerrymandering in Texas?

Chad W. Dunn:The last safe harbor of resort is the United States District Court. This has been true since the Civil Rights movement began and will continue so. Texas has been slapped down by federal courts during every redistricting case since 1970 and unless its leadership changes, it will continue to do so.

How did we get here?

Chad W. Dunn: Back in 2011, Texas had to seek permission from the federal courts before changing its maps. Texas sought that permission and we fought them. We prevailed and the Court ruled Texas’ maps were discriminatory. Shortly thereafter, in another case, the Supreme Court ruled that Texas and other jurisdictions could change their maps without seeking permission so Texas could move forward with their maps. However, the Texas Democratic Party and civil rights organizations had filed another lawsuit in San Antonio, that was moving at the same time, that claimed the maps were discriminatory whether or not Texas needed or received permission to use them. Over the course of multiple trials, the San Antonio court not only ruled the maps were discriminatory in effect, it also ruled they were adopted with a discriminatory intent. Texas appealed this ruling and that is what the Supreme Court will decide.

You mentioned the Voting Rights Act. Nearly two years after the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in its Shelby County v. Holder decision, this Trump Republican Congress has failed to act. Why must we demand a fully restored and strengthened federal Voting Rights Act?

Chad W. Dunn: This redistricting case is great example of why we need the Voting Rights Act back in full. Texas’ maps would have, years ago, been stopped from being used and this Supreme Court appeal would be unnecessary. Also, the voter ID law, which we successfully fought, would have been stopped before it was used in numerous elections where qualified voters were stripped of their right to vote. Also, in cities, school districts and counties, small changes are being made regularly that make it harder to register or vote. These changes would be reviewed and stopped if we had the full Voting Rights Act back.

We’ve been in court for the entire decade. Regardless of what the Supreme Court does now, how do we make sure this never happens again?

Chad W. Dunn: Restoring the Voting Rights Act is one step. But we also need to elect legislators who respect the voting rights of all citizens and not just those who agree with or look like them.

What advice would you give to young activists who aspire to get into law?

Chad W Dunn: Study hard, pass the bar and get into the fight! With the gutting of the Voting Rights Act and the election of a president openly hostile to voting rights, we have more work than any of us can do. Learn the trade – know what it takes to bring a case and prove it in Court. Connect with a lawyer who has experience in Court and learn, from multiple lawyers if you can. Then, contact us or any of the civil rights organizations. Just know, there is sometimes an inverse relationship in the good you do with the amount of money you make for it. Voting Rights’ battles will make you wealthy in personal reward but not often financial reward.

What does the future hold and what can we do as Texas Democrats to protect all Texans from gerrymandering?

Chad W. Dunn: Texas Democrats are on the march. Our values are the Texas values. It was Texas leaders like Barbara Jordan and L.B.J. who secured our voting rights in federal law. I am confident soon we will elect leadership again in Texas that reflect these values. Until then, we will see Texas in the United States Supreme Court and any courts below, every single time they trample on the rights of Texans.


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