AUSTIN -- The battle over a tax rate increase approved by Travis County voters last Tuesday to support a new medical school at the University of Texas will continue in federal court Thursday.
Members of the Travis County Taxpayers Union, an organization put together to oppose the original Central Health Prop 1 on the November ballot, gathered outside the federal courthouse in Austin Wednesday to move their effort into the legal arena.
Opponents of the tax increase filed a lawsuit in federal court Oct. 22, the day early voting began in Travis County. Don Zimmerman with TCTU says it took the group time to raise the money needed to hire an attorney willing to take on their case.
The legal argument includes claims that the ballot language was written in a way that illegally advocated for the proposition's passage. The suit also argues that the language was written in a complex way that disenfranchised minority voters. Two of the plaintiffs are minority voters who claimed they were intimidated by the wording.
In court Wednesday, Judge Lee Yeakel instructed the attorney for TCTU that the plaintiffs would have to prove the language violated the Voting Rights Act by disenfranchising minority voters in order for the federal court to have jurisdiction. Otherwise, Yeakel said, the case is a matter of state law and outside the federal court's jurisdiction.
After an hour and a half of testimony, Yeakel gave the plaintiffs until noon Thursday to submit additional case law that backs up the Voting Rights Act claim.
"Minority voters have a less than average reading level at the 11th grade level," said Stephen Casey, attorney for TCTU. Casey suggests that school testing data affirms the idea that minority voters are more likely to have a lower level of reading comprehension and are therefore disproportionately discouraged by complicated ballot language.
"An easy inference to make from that is that as they're adults or they're dropping out, they may have a challenging time with ballot language that is broad and expansive," explained Casey.
"I think that's really condescending, and frankly I think it's pretty offensive," said Jim Cousar, defense attorney for Central Health.
Yeakel said he plans to deliver a ruling by 5 p.m. Thursday to give both parties time to file in state court before the votes from the tax ratification election are canvassed. Opponents aren't saying yet if they plan to file a suit in state court.