Late Friday we heard about the possibility of a settlement agreement in the redistricting lawsuit in San Antonio, with the idea of coming up with an interim map in time to keep the primaries on April 6. Here’s an update on that from the Chron.
Under the arrangement outlined during the hearing, the parties would negotiate each of the challenged districts separately and the court would draw the boundaries for districts where an agreement could not be reached.
[Assistant Attorney General David] Mattax said they could announce agreements on some of the districts as soon as Sunday or Monday.
“If it’s possible to have a primary in April, why don’t we at least set that as a goal to do that?” asked Texas Republican Party Chairman Steve Munisteri, who said it is still in the “realm of possibility” to have an April primary.
He acknowledged that the court could give the state some flexibility in dealing with the MOVE Act, which requires ballots to be sent to troops and citizens abroad at least 45 days before an election.
U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia told an attorney for the state that the parties should try to agree “to as many districts as possible” by early next week “if you want to have an election in April.”
He also said the parties should agree to an election date in case the maps can’t be done in time for an April election.
Assistant Attorney General David Mattax said the state wants to have a unified primary, and they want to have it in April. He said the state hasn’t appropriated the money for extra elections. That’s a new position. In hearings last month about moving the primaries, the state didn’t take a position on whether the primaries should be split or not.
The judges are concerned about the timetable. Election administrators across the state have said they need 60 to 80 days after maps are completed to pull an election together. To hold an election on April 3, they’ve told the court that they need maps by the end of the month. “How are we supposed to get all of this done by the 1st?” asked an obviously frustrated [Judge Xavier] Rodriguez.
“It can’t be done,” Garza answered. He reads the Supreme Court’s recent decision to mean the worries of the state parties are “secondary” to the need to hold fair elections. The parties hold their state conventions in early June and must hold primaries in advance as part of their nominating process.
“Those are party issues,” Garza said, in response to a question from [Judge Jerry] Smith. “I’m not saying they’re not important … but they must take a back seat.”
Garcia said the lawyers should meet over the weekend to figure out what they can agree upon. “Monday or Tuesday, you tell us the districts you’ve agreed upon or you’ll tell us the date you’ve agreed upon if it’s not going to be April,” he said.
Judge Garcia later said basically that they either have a map by February 6 or they can kiss the April 3 primary good-bye.
Michael Li sums it all up.
The other big development of the day (maybe the biggest) was the emergence of serious discussions about a settlement on the maps, with intense negotiations expected to continue this weekend.
David Mattax, the state’s lawyer, explained that what the state was proposing was a deal on interim maps, not permanent maps.
Mattax said that under the deal he was trying to work out, if redistricting plaintiffs proposed maps in areas where the state agreed that there were legitimate issues of dispute, the state would not object. Mattax conceded, though, that other parties (such as Congressman Barton) might object. Mattax also recognized that complete agreement with redistricting plaintiffs might not be possible. But Mattax said he hoped to at least be able to narrow the issues for the court before February 6 in an effort to facilitate getting maps by mid-February.
If this sounds like a significant sea change from the state’s prior position, it certainly seems to be. And at least some reports are that Republicans are willing to make significant concessions.
Drawing new maps
If the parties are not able to agree on interim maps, or substantially narrow issues, the court did not indicate when it expected to be able to complete maps.
However, the judges repeatedly raised questions about how they would be able to draw maps quickly in that instance, with Judge Rodriguez noting that they had even yet received the record and transcript from the D.C. case.
There also were questions about whether to wait for a ruling in the preclearance case from the D.C. court. In middle of the hearing, the court took a recess to call the D.C. court to discuss timing with Judge Collyer, though the judges were mum about what they learned.
While the state said it thought the court could move quickly, plaintiffs disagreed noting that the record in the D.C. case was different than in the case tried before the San Antonio court. They also said they thought the burden imposed by the Supreme Court’s ruling was more complicated than the state suggested. That position was supported, in part, by lawyers for Joe Barton who argued that the court would benefit from evidence about section 5 issues before making any significant changes to the map.
Emphasis mine. That sure sounds like a big effin’ deal to me. Obviously, the plaintiffs, whose interests are mostly but not entirely aligned, would have to come up with something – remember, there are three maps in dispute here – and there would have to be no objections from other intervenors such as Congressmen Barton and Canseco, but I would think the plaintiffs would have strong incentive to work something out. I’m very hopeful, that’s for sure. The other news of interest is that the previous court order that included things like a secondary filing deadline of February 1 has been suspended pending the outcome here. There will still be a second filing period, we just don’t know when it will be yet. Stay tuned.