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May 24th, 2017:

The SCOTUS ruling on North Carolina’s gerrymandering could affect Texas

This is potentially a very big deal.

In striking down North Carolina’s congressional district map, the Supreme Court sent Texas a firm warning Monday about how the state’s case may fare if it reaches that stage.

The 5-3 North Carolina ruling affirmed a previous district court decision, which found that Republican state legislators there had “packed” black voters into two Democratic-held districts to dilute the impact of minority votes in other congressional seats.

Written by Justice Elena Kagan, the ruling is the latest in a series of rejections from the Supreme Court in recent years toward redistricting efforts that include racial considerations. The court demanded the review of Virginia state legislature districts in March and also ruled against Alabama’s state legislature districts in 2015.

[…]

Michael Li, a redistricting expert and senior counsel at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, said the North Carolina ruling will be an “important decision” for the other districting efforts winding through the legal system, including those in Texas.

“It makes clear that this isn’t about any sort of talismanic test or anything like that, but that you actually have to delve into the facts and circumstances about how maps are drawn,” Li said. “So even a district that looks pretty and has nice lines, and everything like that, can still be problematic. And it’s really up to the trial court to delve into that.”

Democrats in Texas celebrated the ruling as a promising indication of how their arguments will fare moving forward.

“I am happy that North Carolina voters secured another victory against the national Republican crusade to undermine the voting power of African Americans and Hispanics in local, state, and federal elections,” said Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, who has been on the front lines of another legal case against Texas’ voter ID law.

Though the North Carolina decision may be a setback for Texas’ chances, it will not necessarily be determinative of the outcome. As Kagan reiterated, the specific details of the districts matter greatly. And newly confirmed Justice Neil Gorsuch will be able to hear the Texas case, whereas the North Carolina arguments occurred before he took his seat on the court.

While Li said he was reticent to predict Paxton’s decision-making, he expects the North Carolina case will factor into how he handles Texas’ efforts moving forward.

“It should be a warning to states about how the court is going to look at these cases, but that doesn’t mean that Texas won’t appeal,” Li said. “It is fact-specific, and there’s a lot politically riding on these decisions, and sometimes taking your chance at the Supreme Court can be important.”

See these two Rick Hasen posts for all the technical details. This Trib story boils it down a bit and explains the relevance to Texas:

For years, courts have wrangled with a tough question: How to untangle the roles of race and partisanship in redistricting, the once-per-decade exercise of redrawing political maps to accommodate changing populations. It’s a crucial exercise because partisan gerrymandering is broadly viewed as constitutional, while race-based map-drawing is not.

But the legal calculus is complicated by the fact that black and Latino voters tend to favor Democrats, for instance.

Monday’s Supreme Court ruling said plaintiffs could successfully challenge the use of race in redistricting, even if lawmakers claim they were motivated by politics.

“The sorting of voters on the grounds of their race remains suspect even if race is meant to function as a proxy for other [including political] characteristics,” said a footnote in Justice Elena Kagan’s majority decision.

[…]

Though Texas’ court dispute isn’t precisely the same as North Carolina’s, they both feature a similar line of defense — that partisanship, not race, motivated map drawers.

In one 2013 brief, for instance, then-Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott wrote “plaintiffs must prove that the Texas Legislature’s redistricting decisions were motivated by unconstitutional racial animus rather than a desire to maximize the Republican Party’s electoral prospects.”

But race and partisanship are intertwined in Texas, and opponents of the maps successfully argued — in some districts, at least — that the Republican-dominated Legislature advanced the party’s interests by looking to race.

Monday’s Supreme Court decision only adds heft to that idea, lawyers challenging the state say, making it more difficult for Texas and other states to argue politics can shield racial considerations.

“It undermines entirely their protestation that this is about politics: Yes, we’re picking apart Latino voting boxes and African-American voting boxes – we’re not doing it to them, we’re doing it to the Democratic Party,” said Jose Garza, an attorney for the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, a lead plaintiff in the case. “That’s just not going to hold up.”

Gerry Hebert, executive director of the Campaign Legal Center and an attorney for other plaintiffs in the case, said the Supreme Court “expressly rejected” part of Texas’ redistricting defense.

Texas’ defense now is that the 2013 map wipes away the problems with the 2011 map. The main problem with that is that some of the illegal districts are identical in the two maps, so one presumes something would need to be done about that. Thus, the court has asked the state if it might like to take a crack at drawing a new, legal map, maybe in a shudder special session. I rather doubt the state will take them up on this offer, on the grounds that the state surely figures it will win, but they have until the 26th to decide. Daily Kos and Slate have more.

How bad is the “Patrick Lite” bathroom bill?

For one view, there’s this, from Texas Competes:

A review of press coverage shows that the Texas “bathroom bill” debate generated $216 million in publicity for the state of Texas in the period from January 10, 2016 through May 22, 2017.

During the 85th Texas legislative session, 25,774 local, state, and national articles were written about the efforts to pass bathroom and changing room restrictions on transgender adults and children. More than 20,000 of these articles were published outside of Texas.

The media tracking service Meltwater was used to generate the data; its language-detecting algorithm deemed 73% of the coverage, or $155.5 million, “neutral;” 25%, or $56.4 million, “negative;” and 2%, or $4 million, “positive.” A review of coverage categorized as “positive” by the software revealed that these stories largely described efforts by performing artists, businesses, sports organizations and others to protest “bathroom bills.” Overall, the sentiment calculated across all news coverage was deeply negative, as seen in the chart below. (The February 2017 spike in sentiment was largely related to a “positive” story covering the NBA’s decision to move its All-Star Game from Charlotte to the LGBT-inclusive city of New Orleans.)

The topic of bathroom restrictions for transgender Texans has been shepherded into the spotlight by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and vocal anti-LGBT backers like Empower Texans, Conservative Republicans of Texas, and Texas Values.

Texas business leaders and small business owners have consistently cited the war for talent as a major concern related to the state’s anti-LGBT reputation. “HR executives and business leaders voice concern to us when stories about discrimination dominate the news about Texas,” said Jessica Shortall, Managing Director of Texas Competes, a coalition of nearly 1,300 Texas employers and chambers of commerce making the economic case for an LGBT-friendly Texas. “We cannot maintain the pipeline of talent needed to fuel this state’s economy in the face of national coverage that tells young workers that Texas is in the business of discrimination.”

In a February UT/TT 2017 poll, a majority of Texans said that it’s “not important” for the legislature to pass a bathroom law. In March, the Public Religion Research Institute released a poll showing that 53% of Americans oppose laws requiring transgender people to use bathrooms that correspond to their sex at birth. In a recent USA TODAY poll, Americans aged 18 to 35 – a group representing the current and future talent pool for many Texas employers – oppose bathroom laws by nearly a two-to-one ratio.

You know how they say there’s no such thing as bad publicity? This will be a test of that. And I’m sure North Carolina’s glad we’re getting all the attention for being transphobic and unwelcoming now. It’s taking some of the heat off of them.

As bad as the perception is, the reality may be somewhat less harsh, though that remains to be seen.

“I think it’s going to depend on how people interpret the amendment,” said Dax Gonzalez, assistant director of governmental relations for the Texas Association of School Boards, which represents the state’s school districts and provides guidance to them on policies related to transgender students.

Under Paddie’s interpretation, the amendment would nix existing trans-inclusive policies at some school districts that allow transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice at school. (Some Texas school districts allow transgender students to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity through formal policies or on a case-by-case basis.)

But the school board association, which endorsed the measure on Sunday night, argues school districts could probably maintain such policies, possibly with a few tweaks, because of the measure’s “flexibility.”

“I think what it boils down to is that this amendment is pretty flexible and open to interpretation,” Gonzalez added.

[…]

After the Sunday vote, Straus suggested the Paddie amendment would not require schools to make significant modifications to how they “handle sensitive issues.”

School groups agree because providing single-stall facilities for students seeking bathroom-related accommodations is something school districts “would do anyway,” so the amendment doesn’t make a “significant change” on that front, said Jennifer Canaday, governmental relations director for the Association of Texas Professional Educators.

When it comes to the amendment’s possible effects on efforts to accommodate transgender students beyond single-occupancy bathrooms, Canaday echoed the school board association in saying there was “enough ambiguity” in the amendment to allow for different interpretations by school districts.

But she indicated that the school group — which deemed bathroom-related legislation “a solution in search of a problem” — was still sifting through any possible repercussions for trans-inclusive policies in place across the state.

“Obviously there’s some confusion,” she said. “It may take some time [to figure out] how school districts interpret this.”

I strongly suspect that more forward-thinking districts like HISD will continue to accommodate trans students as best they can, while districts with jerks for Superintendents like Pearland ISD will take a hard line. It will inevitably be up to the courts to sort it out.

One major danger zone in all this is privacy concerns.

The measure poses an excruciating dilemma for Texas schools that have quietly agreed at parents’ requests to keep secret the birth genders of some students.

To comply with state law, teachers might have to send transgender students to the bathroom of their birth gender or to a single-occupancy bathroom, shocking their peers.

The legislation “really boxes in school systems,” said Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, a spokeswoman for the national transgender rights organization Trans Equality.

[…]

Currently, each school and school district determines how to handle students whose birth genders are secret — a small portion of Texas’ thousands of transgender minors. A survey conducted by the Williams Institute at UCLA indicated that 13,800 Texas teens identify as transgender, but the number of children under age 13 is not known.

Even if this law isn’t quite as bad as it could be, given its limited reach, it’s still potentially catastrophic for thousands of children. Not everyone is out, and not everyone wants to be, but what is a school to do with a trans kid who doesn’t want his or her classmates to know about that? Trans kids are already at an elevated risk for suicide. When something bad happens, don’t say we weren’t warned. The DMN, Burkablog, and Deadspin, both of which note the lack of any response so far from the NCAA, have more.

UPDATE: The Senate will reject the “Patrick Lite” amendment in SB2078. Nothing good can come of this.

MALDEF gets injunction in recapture lawsuit

From their website:

Please attribute the following statement on a Texas court ruling ordering state education officials to cease bypassing existing school funding rules to Marisa Bono, Southwest regional counsel of MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund):

“MALDEF is pleased that the District Court saw through efforts by the Texas Education Agency to circumvent school funding rules. The court was abundantly clear in its finding that efforts to relieve wealthier school districts of their responsibilities to poorer districts under ‘recapture’ amounted to ‘an inadequate, improper, and invalid attempt at a rule amendment.’ As MALDEF argued, and the court found, state education officials failed to comply with the mandatory requirement that any changes in funding rules must include a fiscal impact statement – TEA’s own witness confirmed that this rule change will cost public schools $88 million a year. We call on the Texas legislature to take immediate and binding steps to bar the TEA from doing this again.”

Read the injunction order here.

Read the jurisdiction order here.

See here for the background. I started writing this before there was any reporting on it, just a bit of chatter on Facebook that led me to Google and the MALDEF statement. Now here is the Chron story.

Just weeks after voters approved a $77.5 million payment to the state in so-called “recapture” fees, the Houston school district could be stuck with another $60 million in fees after a judge’s ruling that the state improperly slashed wealthy districts’ bills.

The ruling, by state District Judge Darlene Byrne in Travis County, temporarily halts an agreement by the Texas Education Agency that allowed the Houston Independent School District and other property-rich districts to reduce the amount of “equalization” payments required to fund public education.

The ruling throws HISD’s recapture bill back into question and could affect more than a dozen other property wealthy districts across the state, though no official list has been released.

“We understand the financial situation even wealthy school districts are in, which is why we’re pushing for school finance reform in the Legislature,” said Marisa Bono, southwest regional council for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, a civil rights organization that filed the suit.

“But the solution is not to give wealthy districts a tax break on the backs of property poor districts.”

[…]

The deal was cut in February, when TEA said it would give districts such as HISD credit for half of their local homestead exemptions, along with adjustments for student enrollment and property values, to cut the districts’ recapture bills.

The changes were outlined in a Feb. 1 memo penned by TEA Chief School Finance Officer Leo Lopez that were later incorporated into TEA’s recapture manual.

TEA officials at the time concluded the would result in “no fiscal implications to state or local government, including local school districts.”

But attorneys for the property-poor districts argued the state would lose $88 million in funding, causing significant financial loss to local governments.

In a ruling released late Friday, Byrne concluded that the reprieve granted by TEA was “inadequate, improper and invalid,” and that the TEA manual did not contain an accurate financial note describing the fiscal impact of the changes.

She granted a temporary injunction to halt the recapture calculations until the case can go to trial Aug. 11.

Unless the state works out another way to grant HISD and the other districts a reprieve, the district could be forced to pay $137 million. The adjustments for enrollment and property values were allowed to stand, said Bono, the MALDEF lawyer.

So there you have it. It’s very frustrating, especially with the Senate undermining efforts to address the problem. I don’t know what happens next, but I hope HISD and the TEA can work something out that will be accepted by the judge and the plaintiffs.

El Paso files “sanctuary cities” lawsuit

Two and counting, as El Paso gets in on the anti-SB4 action.

The lawsuit, filed by El Paso County, its Sheriff Richard Wiles and the Texas Organizing Project Education Fund, a client of the Texas Civil Rights Project, charges that the law, if enacted, would violate several provisions of the U.S. Constitution, including the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of the equal protection of laws; the 14th Amendment’s due process clause; and the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.

The plaintiffs also allege the bill would violate the U.S. Supremacy Clause, which states that federal law — including statutes dealing with immigration enforcement — is “wholly dedicated to the federal government and may not be usurped by the states.”

“All law enforcement agencies and jurisdictions that opt to stay out of immigration enforcement face stringent civil liability,” the lawsuit charges. “And, persons in Texas, particularly Mexican-Americans, those of Hispanic descent, and immigrants and their families, will be caught in the crossfire.”

The lawsuit, filed in San Antonio, which is part of the Western District of Texas’ federal judicial district, comes after the City of El Cenizo and Maverick County filed suit against the state earlier this month. The city of Austin also voted last week to file a suit to stop the controversial measure, which Abbott and other Republicans have argued is needed to ensure Texans are safe from non-deported criminal immigrants who aren’t turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.

El Paso County is in a unique situation, however, because it agreed in 2006 to a court settlement after a local resident sued, accusing sheriff’s deputies of conducting unlawful immigration checks at roadside checkpoints. The parties reached an agreement: The sheriff’s office had to “memorialize in writing its policies that prohibits Sheriff’s Department Deputies from enforcing civil immigration law.”

“El Paso also has adopted policies, which may violate SB 4’s unconstitutional mandates,” the complaint reads. “Specifically, the El Paso County Attorney’s office has adopted a policy that prohibits its investigators from making inquiries into the citizenship or residency status for the purpose of determining whether an individual has violated civil immigration law or for the purpose of enforcing those laws.”

See here for more on the El Cenizo/Maverick County lawsuit. More cities are expected to follow suit, though on different grounds than El Paso and its unique situation. It would be nice to know when Houston will join in; one hopes there are plans to address this after the session is over and pension reform is in the can. Meanwhile, Greg Abbott is out there telling lies about SB4 and its effects. Gotta do what you gotta do when the facts are against you, after all. The Press and the Current have more.