Judge Strikes Down Part of Lawsuit Against Proposition 1

Joshua Fechter

A U.S. district court ruled Thursday to deny a portion of a lawsuit that would prevent UT from receiving revenue University officials say is necessary to establish a proposed medical school and teaching hospital.

U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel denied plaintiffs’ request to bar Central Health, Travis County’s hospital district, from canvassing the votes of Proposition 1, a measure that would finalize the election results. Proposition 1 is a ballot proposal approved by voters Nov. 6 that would raise property taxes to partially fund operations at the teaching hospital and purchase medical services from medical school students and faculty for the general public.

The Travis County Taxpayers Union, a political action committee formed to oppose Proposition 1, and three other plaintiffs say Central Health violated the U.S. Voting Rights Act of 1965 by including advocacy language that allegedly swayed voters to cast ballots in favor of Proposition 1.

In a statement released Thursday, Patricia Young Brown, Central Health President and CEO, said she is pleased with Yeakel’s decision, which will allow Central Health’s board of managers to finalize the election results Monday.

“The ballot language presented to the voters of Travis County was understandable and allowed for further clarity on this important issue, which was our intention,” Brown said.

Yeakel said the plaintiffs do not meet the four standards required for the court to issue a preliminary injunction, which restrains a party in a case from proceeding with a particular action and would prevent Central Health from canvassing the votes for Proposition 1.

To qualify for a preliminary injunction, plaintiffs must demonstrate four criteria: a substantial likelihood that their case will prevail on its merits, a substantial threat that the plaintiffs will suffer irreparable harm if injunction is not granted, that the potential harm demonstrated by the plaintiffs exceeds the potential harm to the party they seek to restrain and that granting the injunction will serve the public interest.

Yeakel said the court has concerns regarding the plaintiffs’ standing to sue under the Voting Rights Act, which protects against election laws that disenfranchise voters based on race.

“Plaintiffs ask this court to broaden application of the Voting Rights Act well beyond what was ever envisioned by Congress. If the plaintiffs survive [Central Health’s] standing challenge, they have an almost impossible burden to demonstrate that the Voting Rights Act provides them the opportunity to challenge the language of Proposition 1,” Yeakel said.

He said Travis County voters approved Proposition 1 by roughly 55 percent, indicating public approval for the proposition’s implementation.

In a statement released Thursday, Stephen Casey, an attorney representing the Travis County Taxpayers Union and three other plaintiffs, said two of his plaintiffs are minorities and data from the Texas Education Agency shows that Travis County suffers from illiteracy problems among minorities.

“If that is the case, a change in the voting language of a ballot proposition, far beyond what is permitted by law, can have a harmful effect on the ability of some voters to understand what is on the ballot,” Casey said.

The court is expected to rule on Central Health’s request to dismiss the case at a later date.

Printed on Friday, November 16, 2012 as: Court rejects halting Prop. 1 confirmation