With final passage of SB31 and HB150, the Senate and House redistricting bills, the Lege has done three of its four redistricting-related tasks. There’s still a pretty big one not yet done, however, and it’s not looking like they’ll get to it at all.
With the legislative session winding down toward its final week, the chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Redistricting said late this week that lawmakers probably will not get congressional redistricting finished.
“Can we get it out of the Legislature? Probably not,” said Sen. Kel Seliger, the Amarillo Republican who chairs the committee. “But it’s important that we get a credible instrument for the court to consider.”
If they do not finish, lawmakers can allow a panel of federal judges to draw the map or add it to the call for a special session in July.
U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Houston, and other congressmen have been hovering around the Capitol all week, seeking to influence the process. “We’re hoping for a buzzer beater,” Brady said Thursday.
More likely is a committee hearing next week and then overtime. The hearing would allow all interested parties to get their maps and their concerns into the record, to be considered by a court.
No impact on courts
Ed Martin, a redistricting consultant who represents Democrats, predicted the courts will pay little attention to a committee report, based on a similar situation in 2001.
“If the congressional redistricting committee passes a plan, that will have no serious import on what the courts ultimately do,” he said.
Redistricting insiders say that one of the reasons for not having a map yet is because of disagreement among Republicans about where to draw the four new congressional districts.
Frankly, I would be perfectly happy to have the courts draw a map. They could hardly do any worse than the Lege has done, and unlike the Lege they might actually try to accommodate Latino population growth. Of course, the fact that the 2001 map was drawn by the courts and not the Lege was the rationale given for the 2003 re-redistricting, but unlike then the Republicans control all aspects of redistricting (the House was still majority Democratic in 2001) and the courts got the job because the House and Senate could not reach an agreement. Here, the stalemate is all on the Republicans. Plus, there’s no Tom DeLay to drive the bus. So this may be how it plays out. For what it’s worth, Robet Miller says that “Gov. Perry’s aides are telling legislators that a special session on congressional redistricting alone will not be called” because that might interfere with his delusions of being elected President. Greg remains skeptical that the committee will not pass a map, but agrees there’s damn little time to do it. There’s always time for a lawsuit, however.
So at the state level, the only thing left to do is Congressional redistricting. I was curious about redistricting of state district and appeals courts, but that’s not a requirement for the Lege.
Texas law states that the purpose of reapportionment of the judicial districts for the district courts is to promote “prompt and efficient” administration of government by equalizing the “judicial burdens” of the district courts. This differs from the purpose of redistricting representative districts, which is to equalize the populations of the districts. Caseloads and a number of other variables, some of which are difficult to quantify, may be factored into the measurement of “judicial burden.” Judicial districts are not covered by the one-person, one-vote requirement and may have whatever populations the legislature considers appropriate.
The Texas Legislature may revise the judicial districts at any regular or special session. The Texas Constitution requires the Judicial Districts Board (JDB) to make a statewide reapportionment of judicial districts if the legislature does not do so by June of the third year following the federal decennial census. If the JDB fails to do so by August of that third year, the responsibility falls to the Legislative Redistricting Board.
The boundaries of the state’s courts of appeals districts are determined solely by the legislature and are not required to be redrawn at any particular time.
Locally, we’re two for four. Houston City Council and HISD are done; HCCS and Harris County are not. At this point, I have no idea when either of them have it on their schedule, when or if there will be any public meetings to discuss them, or what if any VRA requirements they must meet.
UPDATE: Apparently, HCC did discuss draft redistricting plans in their May 19 meeting. You can see the agenda item here – it’s the fourth entry under the Consent Agenda. I will have a post with more information later.