The Justice Department said Monday that Texas’ state House and congressional redistricting plans didn’t comply with Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), indicating they thought the maps approved by Gov. Rick Perry (R) gave too little voting power to the growing Latino population in the state.
Officials with DOJ’s Civil Rights Division said the proposed redistricting plan for the State Board of Education (SBOE) and the state Senate complied with the Voting Rights Act, but indicated they had concerns with the state House plan and the plan for congressional redistricting.
The federal government “[denied] that the proposed Congressional plan, as compared with the benchmark, maintains or increases the ability of minority voters to elect their candidate of choice in each district protected by Section 5,” DOJ lawyers write in a filing. “Defendants deny that the proposed Congressional plan complies with Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.”
The Justice Department was responding as the defendant in a lawsuit filed by the state of Texas in the DC Circuit Court arguing that it had met all of the legal requirements under Section 5, and thus the maps should be precleared. Here’s the complaint that was filed by the state, to which the DOJ responded yesterday. You should read them in that order, because the DOJ’s response is point by point; if you want to know what they mean when they refer to “paragraph whatever”, it’s the corresponding section in the state’s complaint.
What happens next, as Texas Redistricting points out, is that “DOJ says it will submit proposed stipulations on the districts that remain at issue on or to the parties on or before September 20, 2011.” In other words, today. The court will then take it all under advisement and issue its ruling, which may or may not leave enough time for anything to be fixed before the primary filing season begins. If that happens, then the map-drawing duties may ultimately fall to the court in San Antonio, which has its problematic districts to consider. There’s a lot riding on these cases, to say the least. After these courts rule, everything will eventually go to the Supreme Court, which may get around to making its own rulings in time for the 2016 elections. Consider everything, at least in the State House and the Congressional maps, to be drawn with pencil until then. A statement from Rep. Carol Alvarado is here; BOR, the Lone Star Project, the Trib, Texas Redistricting, and the National Journal have more.
On a related note, the Texas Democratic Party took the turncoat Aaron Pena to task for fibbing about his role in drawing the objectionable maps.
The party noted that Peña claimed to have nothing to do with the creation of the proposed House District 41, a strangely drawn district that is sometimes referred to as the “running man” because its shape is reminiscent of a runner.
The oddly shaped district was created to allow Peña to be re-elected by packing the district with white and Republican precincts, Democrats have said.
The Democrats point to a page in the House Journal in which Peña said in April: “I said I will not draw this map because one, I did not want to be involved. And two, that I didn’t want to be involved in pairing or being involved in effecting (sic) my neighbors districts.”
But the party said Peña’s words in April don’t reflect what really happened. As an attempt to prove their allegation, Democrats point to testimony from the federal redistricting trial that ended last week in San Antonio. There, Ryan Downton, the House Redistricting Committee counsel, testified that Peña was involved, they said.
Peña said the Democrats are quibbling over the word “draw,” and that he has always said he’s been open about his conversations with redistricting committee staffers and lawyers.
“What it is is a personal attack on me,” he said.
He added that he never submitted a map that he drew, and he doesn’t even know how to use the map-drawing software. ” I don’t know how to draw a map.”
I’m sure there’s plenty of things Pena is not capable of doing, but that’s a pretty thin excuse. Just because he didn’t draw one doesn’t mean he didn’t offer input or feedback on one. Why would anyone believe a word he says anyway? You can see the full TDP statement here.