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April 25th, 2018:

SCOTUS hears the redistricting arguments

It’s in their hands now.

Much of the argument concerned the issue of whether the case was properly before the justices at all.

Last year, a three-judge panel of the Federal District Court for the Western District of Texas, in San Antonio, ruled that a congressional district including Corpus Christi denied Hispanic voters “their opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice.” The district court also rejected a second congressional district stretching from San Antonio to Austin, saying that race had been the primary factor in drawing it.

In a separate decision, the district court found similar flaws in several state legislative districts.

But the court did not issue an injunction compelling the state to do anything, and only instructed Texas officials to promptly advise it about whether they would try to draw new maps.

[…]

The question for the justices, [Allison J. Riggs, a lawyer for the challengers] said, was, “Did the Legislature adopt the interim plan for race-neutral reasons, or did it use the adoption of that interim plan as a mask for the discriminatory intent that had manifested itself just two years ago?”

Later in the argument, she answered her own question. “They wanted to end the litigation,” she said, “by maintaining the discrimination against black and Latino voters, muffling their growing political voice in a state where black and Latino voters’ population is exploding.”

See here for the previous update. I’ll be honest, I’m a little unclear as to what exactly SCOTUS may be ruling on. The DMN has the most concise summary of that:

If the justices side with the state:
The lower court’s ruling could be vacated and Texas’ electoral maps would stay the same until they are next redrawn in 2021.

A victory for the state would also benefit Republican lawmakers, who would start their next redistricting session with more districts that are favorable to Anglo voters, who tend to vote Republican. That would slow the growth of districts with majority minority populations, which tend to vote Democrat, and whose numbers are fueling the state’s population growth.

If the court sides with the map’s challengers:
The case would be sent back to the San Antonio court, which would start hearings on how to redraw new maps that could also be appealed to the Supreme Court. Changing the challenged districts could have a ripple effect on surrounding districts and lead to more Democrats being elected.

A victory for them could spell deeper trouble for Texas. The San Antonio court could consider whether to place the state back under federal supervision for changes made to its election laws and maps. Texas and several other states with a history of discrimination were under “pre-clearance” — a protection under the Voting Rights Act for minorities who were historically disenfranchised — until a Supreme Court ruling in 2013.

If the justices rule it’s out of their jurisdiction:
The Supreme Court could send the case back to San Antonio because — despite the state’s argument that the order is in essence an injunction — the court hasn’t blocked the use of the current maps yet. Then the case could play out in much the same way as if the Supreme Court had sided with maps’ challengers, and the state could again appeal to the Supreme Court if the court formally blocks the maps.

In that latter case, I presume we[‘d go through the motions of getting a final ruling from the lower court, then going back to SCOTUS since surely there would be another appeal. From the way the hearing went it sounds like at least some of the justices think now is not the time for them to get involved, so be prepared for this to not be over yet. Whatever it is they do, they’ll do it by the summertime, so at least we won’t have to wait that long. CNN, NBC, SCOTUSBlog, Justin Levitt, the WaPo, and the Chron have more.

Special election set in CD27

Here we go.

Blake Farenthold

Gov. Greg Abbott has called a June 30 special election to replace former U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi.

The candidate filing deadline is Friday, and early voting will run from June 13-26, according to the governor’s proclamation.

[…]

Democratic and Republican runoffs are currently underway in the race to represent the district for a full term starting in January 2019. Raul “Roy” Barrera and Eric Holguin are running for the Democratic nomination, while Bech Bruun and Michael Cloud are competing for the Republican nod. The runoffs are May 22.

See here for the background, and here for the governor’s press release. Yes, that really is this Friday, as in two days from today, for the filing deadline. My guess is that the four candidates currently in the primary runoffs will file for this, with maybe a stray or two joining in. I would also guess that unless the loser of the Democratic primary runoff subsequently drops out, there won’t be much national attention paid to this race, not because it’s less winnable than the other special elections but because there won’t be a single candidate to focus on.

Anyway. Prior to this, Abbott had gotten an okey dokey from Ken Paxton to issue this proclamation in the first place.

Gov. Greg Abbott got the go-ahead Monday from Attorney General Ken Paxton to suspend state law so the governor can call a special election to replace former U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi, as soon as possible.

Responding to a request from Abbott submitted Thursday, Paxton issued a nonbinding opinion saying a court would agree Abbott could set aside the election rules under a part of Texas law that lets the governor suspend certain statutes if they interfere with disaster recovery. Abbott said last week he wanted Farenthold’s former constituents to have new representation “as quickly as possible” because the Coastal Bend-area’s Congressional District 27 is still reeling from Hurricane Harvey.

“If the Governor determines the situation in Congressional District 27 constitutes an emergency warranting a special election before November 6, 2018, a court would likely conclude that section 41.0011 of the Election Code authorizes calling an expedited special election to fill the vacancy in that district,” Paxton wrote.

Paxton’s nonbinding opinion paves the way for Abbott to work around state and federal laws that he said are in conflict and make it “practically impossible to hold an emergency special election … before the end of September.” The governor’s office did not immediately say what he planned to do in light of Paxton’s opinion.

I was going to post that yesterday, but there were too many other things, and I figured I’d be okay waiting another day. Life comes at you fast, obviously. I suppose someone could file a lawsuit if they objected to this – maybe an overseas voter who might not have enough time to participate? I dunno – but speaking as a non-lawyer, this seems like the right call. The public interest is served by having the election sooner rather than later. The Chron has more.

Ellis puts up money for city’s bike projects

I like this plan.

Commissioner Rodney Ellis

Harris County Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis on Monday announced a one-year $10 million commitment to bicycling projects in Houston, in the hopes of jump-starting the city’s transformation into a bike-friendly place.

“Working together, we can better leverage scarce resources from governmental entities and the private sector and share our collective expertise to serve the people in this region,” Ellis said.

A year after Houston leaders approved an ambitious plan for hundreds of miles of protected, safe bike trails, little progress has been made, something cycling supporters said Ellis’ pledge will change. Officials estimated the money would build at least 50 miles of protected bike lanes considered crucial to providing usable bike access to neighborhoods and jobs.

“​This really gives us a boost we needed,” Houston Planning Director Patrick Walsh said.

The money, along with city funds from its capital improvement plan, will go toward repainting bike lanes, developing safer intersections and other improvements aimed at making riding a bike in Houston easier and safer.

[…]

Projects will be chosen for their ability to start soon. Ellis stressed officials have one year to spend the money he committed, and any unspent funds will return to other priorities in his precinct.

[Mayor Sylvester] Turner said the funding, along with $1.1 million the city plans to spend in each of the next five years, will act as seed money for upcoming projects, including planned bike lanes along Austin and Caroline and new space for cyclists along Hardy and Elysian on the city’s Near Northside.

See here for some background. This is about putting up some money for projects that are already in the pipeline but have been delayed for a variety of reasons. Commissioner Ellis is an avid cyclist himself, so it’s not a surprise to see him make this a priority. Much of his precinct intersects with the city, and as you know I’m delighted to see some county investment in the not-unincorporated territories. I hope the city takes full advantage of this.