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August 16th, 2017:

Court invalidates CDs 27 and 35

We are one step closer to having a new Congressional map.

Federal judges have invalidated two Texas congressional districts, ruling that they must be fixed by either the Legislature or a federal court.

In a unanimous decision Tuesday, a three-judge panel in San Antonio ruled that Congressional Districts 27 and 35 violate the U.S. Constitution and the federal Voting Rights Act. The judges found that Hispanic voters in Congressional District 27, represented by U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi, were “intentionally deprived of their opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice.” Congressional District 35 — a Central Texas district represented by Democrat Lloyd Doggett of Austin — was deemed “an impermissible racial gerrymander” because mapdrawers illegally used race as the predominant factor in drawing it without a compelling state interest, the judges wrote.

The 107-page ruling — the latest chapter of a six-year court battle over how Texas lawmakers drew political maps — sets up a scramble to redraw the districts in time for the 2018 elections.

The court ordered the Texas Attorney General’s Office to indicate within three business days whether the Texas Legislature would take up redistricting to fix those violations. Otherwise, the state and its legal foes will head back to court on Sept. 5 to begin re-drawing the congressional map — which could shake up other congressional races when the boundaries are changed.

Here is a copy of the ruling, which was unanimous. Michael Li breaks down what this means.

* TX-27 (Farenthold) and TX-35 (Doggett) need to be redrawn – but we knew that already because the court found earlier this year that the configuration of the districts in the 2011 plan was unconstitutional and the 2013 plan made no changes to those districts.

* No further changes need to be made to TX-23 (Hurd) in light of the changes made by the court in the interim plan that then became the 2013 plan. (It is possible there still could be some changes in the Bear County portions of TX-23 as a result of the dismantling of TX-35 but nothing is required).

* No new opportunity district needs to be created in either the Dallas-Fort Worth area. The court’s ruling finds that claims under section 2 of the Voting Rights Act fail because African-Americans and Latinos are not politically cohesive and that any intentional discrimination was adequately remedied by the interim plan/2013 plan as a result of the creation of TX-33 (Veasey).

* No new section 2 district needs to be created in Harris County because African-Americans and Latinos are not politically cohesive.

* BIG FINDING: The court held that the 2013 plan, like the 2011 plan, was intentionally discriminatory. This ruling will play an important role when it comes time for the court to consider whether to put Texas back under preclearance coverage under section 3 of the Voting Rights Act.

From my layman’s perspective, this is a pretty good ruling for the state. CD23 remains intact (though it could be affected by the redrawing of the other two districts), and no new minority opportunity districts need be drawn. The ruling of intent to discriminate is the killer for them, though, as it could mean being put back under preclearance. All things considered, I figure this moves two seats to the Dems, with CD23 remaining a tossup. I suppose Greg Abbott could call another special session to draw a compliant map – they may need another one for the State House soon, too – but I don’t expect that. My guess is the state appeals in the hope of pushing the day of reckoning off into the future, if not winning outright. Stay tuned. The DMN, the Chron, and the Lone Star Project have more.

Smell ya later, Senate

How about that?

The special legislative session is over — in one chamber, at least.

The Texas House abruptly gaveled out Sine Die – the formal designation meaning the end of a session – on Tuesday evening after voting to approve the Senate’s version of a school finance bill that largely stripped provisions the chamber had fought to keep.

Gov. Greg Abbott called lawmakers back for a special session on July 18. Special sessions can last for up to 30 days, which gave both chambers til Wednesday to work.

The House’s abrupt move came after days of difficult negotiations with the Senate on school finance and property tax bills — and leaves the fate of the latter in question.

House Ways and Means Chairman Dennis Bonnen had been expected to appoint conference committee members Tuesday so that the two chambers could reconcile their versions of the bill.

But instead, shortly before the surprise motion to Sine Die, the Angleton Republican made an announcement.

“I have been working with members of the Senate for several days on SB 1, we have made our efforts, so I don’t want there to be in any way a suggestion that we have not, will not, would not work with the Senate on such an important issue,” he said.

So now the Senate can take it or lump it on SB1, which in the end was the bill Abbott was really pushing for. Dan Patrick has a press conference scheduled for today, and I expect it will be epic. I have no idea what happens next, but this is as fitting an ending for a stupid special session as one could imagine. Some things, including at least one really bad thing got done, but most of the petty attacks on local control, as well as the odious bathroom bill, got nowhere. We’ll see if Abbott takes his ball and goes home or drags everyone back out again.

HISD board fills Manuel Rodriguez’s seat

The HISD Board of Trustees is back to full strength.

Jose Leal

The Houston ISD Board of Education voted to appoint José Leal to fill the seat left vacant after the death of longtime District III Trustee Manuel Rodríguez Jr last month. Board members chose Leal unanimously during a special meeting Monday afternoon.

Leal has more than 20 years of classroom experience. His career with HISD started in 1981, when he worked in operations and maintenance. He has worked as a bilingual teacher at Pugh Elementary School, a counselor and dean of students at Hamilton Middle School, and an assistant principal at Wheatley High School. He has also been a dean of students at Meyerland Middle School, assistant principal at North Forest High School, and a counselor at YES Prep Northbrook. He is currently a special education teacher at Houston Can Academies.

“Jose Leal was the only candidate who met the caretaker qualifications the board was looking for in this temporary appointment,” Board President Wanda Adams said. “The board would like to thank the other candidates who wanted to volunteer their time.”

Leal will be sworn in on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017, and will serve at the Board of Education’s next monthly meeting on Sept. 14, 2017. He will serve until a special election is called by the board at its monthly meeting on Aug. 10. That special election will be held Nov. 7.

Rodriguez had passed away in July, so his seat had been vacant for about four weeks. The Board put out a call for applicants a week ago. This Chron story about Leal’s appointment contains a quote from Board President Wanda Adams that Leal “was the only candidate who met the caretaker qualifications the board was looking for in this temporary appointment”, so I take that to mean he will not run for a full term in November. Leal had run against Rodriguez in 2015, finishing second in a three-way race and then getting 44% in the runoff. Whether he will run again or not, I’m sure this will be a hot race. Congratulations and best wishes to Leal for however long he serves.