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CITY OF LOCKHART v. UNITED STATES

July 30, 1981

CITY OF LOCKHART, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES of America, et al., Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: PRATT; GREEN

JOHN H. PRATT and JUNE L. GREEN, District Judges.

 I. Introduction

 This matter came on for trial before the Court on September 10 and 11, 1980. Upon consideration of the trial and the entire record herein, plaintiff's request for declaratory judgment is denied.

 The City of Lockhart initiated this action pursuant to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1973c. Plaintiff seeks a declaratory judgment that the adoption in 1973 of a Home Rule Charter does not have the purpose, and will not have the effect, of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race, color or membership in a language minority group. On September 11, 1980, the Court bifurcated the trial. The proceedings were limited to evidence pertaining to the "effect" of the adoption of the Home Rule Charter. The Court reserved the inquiry on the "purpose" of the adoption for a later time, if necessary.

 II. Findings of Fact

 The City of Lockhart is located in Caldwell County, approximately thirty miles south of Austin, Texas.

 In 1970, the City of Lockhart had a population of 6,489 persons, of whom 45% were Anglo, 41% were Mexican American and 14% were black. As of 1977, there were 3,267 registered voters in Lockhart, of whom 974 were Mexican Americans.

 Under Texas state municipal law, municipalities are categorized as either "general law" cities, "special charter" cities or "home rule" cities. As explained hereinafter, Lockhart is a "general law" city.

 A "special charter" city is similar to a "home rule" city in that the powers that each type of city possesses are derived from the same source (charter) and both are subject to the same statutory limitation.

 There are, however, significant differences between a "general law" city and a "home rule" city. A "general law" city has the authority to undertake only what is specifically authorized by Texas law, while a "home rule" city has authority to do whatever is not specifically prohibited by state law. Thus, the practical effect is that the authority of a "general law" city to govern its own affairs is limited, while a "home rule" city has broad authority to govern its own affairs.

 A "general law" city which operates under a commission form of government has no control over the size or the method of electing its governing body. Texas law rigidly requires that the commission consist of three individuals, a mayor and two commissioners, and that all three members be elected on an at-large basis. There is no authorization for an election scheme which features single-member districts, numbered posts, residency districts or staggering the terms of the commissioners.

 A "general law" city, if it satisfies requirements imposed by state law, may adopt a city charter and become a "home rule" city. In drafting its charter, a municipality is free to adopt any provision which is not inconsistent with state law. Texas state municipal law requires that the municipality in opting for home rule select the powers it desires to exercise and the procedures necessary to implement those powers. In so doing, the municipality is free to choose the form of government under which it will operate and the governing body can be elected at-large or by single-member districts. At its option, the municipality may require that candidates designate the position or post for which they seek election (numbered-post provision). It may also provide that the terms of the members of the governing body be staggered. A "general law" city does not enjoy this latitude of choice.

 Prior to February 20, 1973, the City of Lockhart was a "general law" city which operated under a commission form of government. As authorized by state law, the city was governed by a mayor and two commissioners who were elected at the same time on an at-large basis to two-year terms. In addition, and contrary to Texas law, candidates for election to the city commission were required to designate the places they sought; i.e., numbered posts.

 The limitations imposed upon the actions of "general law" cities by state law led the City of Lockhart to study, during 1972, the feasibility of acquiring "home rule" status. In July 1972, the Lockhart City Commission appointed for this purpose, pursuant to state law, a fifteen-member charter study committee composed of nine (9) Anglos, four (4) Mexican Americans and two (2) blacks. The charter study committee recommended that a charter commission be formed to draft a "home rule" charter for the City of Lockhart. The study committee was itself later elected as the Charter Commission. The Charter Commission used as a model the charter of the City of Gonzales, Texas, a town similar in size to Lockhart and located ...


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