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NVRI Files Voting Rights Act Suit on Behalf of Latino Citizens in Chelsea and South Boston, Massachusetts

On March 12, 2002, the Institute joined the Boston Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the Boston law firm of Goulston & Storrs in filing suit on behalf of Latino voters in Chelsea, Massachusetts, alleging that the redistricting plan for the House of Representatives unlawfully diluted the voting strength of Latino citizens in violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The plaintiffs in the case, Magaly Camacho, et al. v. Thomas M. Finneran, et al., were the Chelsea Commission on Hispanic Affairs, OISTE?, the Massachusetts Latino Political Organization representing the interest of Latino voters statewide, and five individual Chelsea voters. Chelsea and adjacent neighborhoods in East Boston contain the third largest Latino population concentration in the state. Unfortunately, instead of keeping this compact population together in one House district where it could form a majority, the redistricting map paired Chelsea with an almost all-white voting bloc in Charlestown, while placing all of East Boston in a separate district - thus diluting the voting power of Latinos.

The lawsuit was consolidated with a subsequent case challenging the House districts drawn in Boston, Black Political Task Force v. Galvin, also represented by the Lawyers' Committee and the firm of Foley, Hoag and Eliot, along with Boston practitioner Burton Nadler. The Boston case alleged that, despite tremendous growth in the minority population in Boston, the House had reduced the number of majority-minority legislative districts and unlawfully diluted the voting strength of African-Americans and Latinos. One of the districts at issue was the 12th Suffolk, the district represented by then-House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran. In that district, predominantly minority precincts in Boston were removed, while predominantly white precincts from Milton were added.

The cases were tried jointly before a three-judge federal district court in Boston in November 2003. While the Latino plaintiffs were unsuccessful in their claims, the court did find that the redistricting plan in Boston - including Finneran's district, the 12th Suffolk - had unlawfully diluted the voting rights of African Americans. In unusually strong language, the court noted that the House redistricting plan "sacrificed racial fairness on the altar of incumbency protection," and ordered the district to be redrawn in a manner that fairly reflected minority voting strength.

In an unusual footnote in the opinion, the court expressed skepticism about Speaker Finneran's testimony at trial, in which he denied reviewing the redistricting plan before it was made public. A federal grand jury was empanelled to investigate whether the Speaker committed perjury in his testimony. On June 6, 2005, the grand jury returned an indictment, charging Finneran with three counts of perjury and one count of obstruction of justice. Mr. Finneran, who resigned from the House earlier this year to head the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, has announced that he will plead not guilty.

Please visit our legal library to read the legal documents in the case.

Challenging Barriers: