A North Texas city councilman facing recall has filed a voting rights lawsuit challenging the effort to remove him from office.

On Tuesday night, McKinney City Council ordered a recall election for District 1 Council Member La’Shadion Shemwell. Hours earlier, Shemwell—the city’s lone black council member—filed a complaint in federal court against the city, hoping to stop the process he says violates the Voting Rights Act.

McKinney voters initiated the recall process in November, submitting a petition calling for a public vote to remove Shemwell. Recall organizers say the Black Lives Matter activist is using his council position to advance a national agenda based on false claims of institutional racism within McKinney that is damaging to the entire city. His inflammatory “Black State of Emergency” declaration in October was the final straw for many, sparking what petitioners say is a nonpartisan, grassroots recall drive.

At the January 7 council meeting, the city secretary certified the voters’ recall petition, the next step in the process toward a removal election. Shemwell promised a legal fight, saying, “I’ll see you in court.”

On Tuesday, hours ahead of the vote ordering the election, he followed through and asked a federal court for a preliminary injunction to stop the recall.

Shemwell said a judge will hear his case on February 4 and asked council to delay ordering the recall election until after the hearing.

City Attorney Mark Houser said council had until February 14 to order the election but saw no reason to delay, as the city can respond later to any future court rulings. Houser said the city charter requires council to order a recall election once a petition is certified, or else face legal action to force the issue.

Shemwell alleges the problem lies within the city charter.

He said a charter amendment approved by voters last May violates the Voting Rights Act, under which single-member, majority-minority districts like his were created.

“That’s why I’m allowed to run for District 1 and only be voted in by District 1,” he said.

“When you created the charter amendment last year [allowing all city voters to participate in recall elections], this directly subverts, circumvents, and willingly and knowingly ignores the spirit of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This effectively takes the voice out of District 1.”

Mayor George Fuller claimed that “recall petitions and elections are not subject to the Voting Rights Act.”

Barring court intervention, the citywide recall election will take place on May 2.

If McKinney residents vote to recall Shemwell, the seat will be vacant until District 1 voters elect a new council member (or re-elect Shemwell) or council appoints a replacement. If the recall fails, Shemwell will continue his term through May 2021.

Erin Anderson

Erin Anderson is a Senior Journalist for Texas Scorecard, reporting on state and local issues, events, and government actions that impact people in communities throughout Texas and the DFW Metroplex. A native Texan, Erin grew up in the Houston area and now lives in Collin County.