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Plaintiffs want to proceed with new redistricting maps

Texas Redistricting:

Plaintiff groups in the Texas redistricting litigation in San Antonio told the court that it should go ahead and start the process of drawing remedial state house and congressional maps for use in 2014, but disagreed slightly about the timing of the process.

Under proposals from two plaintiff groups, the state would have until March 1, 2013 to submit new proposed remedial maps, with plaintiff groups then being given until April 1 to submit any alternative maps or object to the state’s maps. The court then would hold a map hearing in late April and rule on new maps by July 1.

The groups told the court that this schedule would allow counties time to redraw precinct lines in time for the start of precinct chair candidate filings on September 10 and minimize impact on the Texas election schedule. At the same time, they told the court the schedule would give the Supreme Court time to rule on both the constitutionality of section 5 in Shelby County v. Holder and on Texas’ appeal of the D.C. court’s redistricting ruling (both rulings expected by late June) before issuing final maps.

The Texas Latino Redistricting Task Force filed a separate advisory proposing a more drawn out schedule which would allow the Texas Legislature an opportunity to consider and adopt new redistricting plans.

Under the Task Force’s schedule, the state would file proposed maps by March 8 but objections to plans would not be due and the plaintiffs’ remedial plans would not be due until June 1 (after the end of the Legislature’s regular session) and a hearing on proposed remedial plans would not take place until June 21. The advisory proposes August 15 as a target date for a ruling on new maps.

All of the groups told the court it should not wait for a ruling on in Shelby County v. Holder on the constitutionality of section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

Here are the briefs in question:

Joint advisory of MALC, NAACP, LULAC, Quesada plaintiffs, Perez plaintiffs, Congressman Cuellar, Congresspersons Eddie Bernice Johnson, Sheila Jackson Lee, and Al Green

Travis County plaintiffs

Texas Latino Redistricting Task Force

LULAC and Wendy Davis (state senate case)

Not surprisingly, the State of Texas has proposed deferring any action until July to allow the Supreme Court to rule both on Shelby County and on the state’s appeal of the D.C. court’s redistricting ruling. You can see their brief here. I of course think that the court should get on with it, and I’m glad to see that I called this one correctly after whiffing on the voter ID briefs.

On a side note, the LULAC/Wendy Davis brief urges the court the keep the interim State Senate map as the remedial map. In an email sent out by the Lone Star Project, they suggest this would be in the best interest of the entire Senate:

In the brief, Davis, LULAC and other plaintiffs make an important legal point that Texas leaders should consider before taking action to alter SD10 or any other Senate district boundary – any change made by the Legislature or the courts to the Senate map will result in ALL 31 incumbent Senators standing for re-election in 2014. The key paragraph reads:

“There is also legal authority suggesting that if the State of Texas attempts to dismantle SD10 in 2013 and impose new districts in the Dallas-Fort Worth region or otherwise attempts to replace the interim plan with a new plan, then all 31 Texas senators must stand for re-election in 2014. See Armbrister v. Morales, 943 S.W. 2d 202 (1997).”

If the current map used in the 2012 elections remains unchanged as the Davis Plaintiffs argue, only 15 or 16 Senators would stand for re-election in 2014, and those would be determined randomly by a drawing. The others would have four year terms and an extra cycle to consolidate their support and head-off strong potential challengers. Any change, however, even if it is only to Senate District 10 and adjacent Senate districts, means all Senators would be forced to gear up for potential challenges.

They note that a brand new map might make SD10 more Democratic, and they note several “safe” incumbents who were defeated in primaries this year as a reason why Senators would prefer not to create more elections for themselves than necessary. I’m not sure I buy the legal argument, because in 2006 when SCOTUS declared the Tom DeLay-drawn CD23 map to be illegal, only the Congressional districts that were redrawn as a result of fixing CD23 had special elections that November. None of the others were affected. I don’t know why that logic wouldn’t apply here, but I’m not a lawyer, so make of that what you will. If we’re going to get into gamesmanship, I can think of two reasons why the GOP would prefer to ensure that Davis would have to run again in SD10, even at the risk of the courts drawing her a safer district. One, off year elections tend to have more Republican electorates, which would make it easier for them to knock off Davis even in a friendlier district; and two, if Davis really is a legitimate threat as a statewide candidate, ensuring her seat is up for election in 2014 forces her to make a choice. That may still happen when the Senate does their drawing to see who’s up in 2014 and who gets to wait till 2016, but if Davis gets lucky there she could run for something else in 2014 without abandoning her seat. We’ll see what the court makes of all this. Postcards has more.

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4 Comments

  1. Greg Wythe says:

    My non-lawyerly attempt to grapple with the issue of putting half or all of the Senate up for election …

    This footnote in the opinion linked seems to cut to the chase on it:

    4. The staggered-term electoral system requires an election to be held every two years. Article III, section 3 dictates that a new Senate (i.e., all Senate seats, as opposed to half) be elected after every apportionment. The longest a voter in a reapportioned district would have to wait to vote in the changed district, therefore, would be two years.

    Since that section of the constitution seems to apply a rather blunt description of “apportionment”, there doesn’t seem to be any room for defining a “partial apportionment”.

    In other words, even if the Lege were to redistrict the Senate and there were zero changes in the boundaries from the previous map, there would still be a full Senate election since the unchanged map would apparently be considered a new apportionment. Likewise, I suppose, if two Senators wanted to do a micro-redistrict of territory between two districts.

  2. Thanks, Greg, that does seem pretty clear. I should note that the state’s position is that all the issues with the maps were addressed in the interim maps and so therefore no further action is needed, which means that both sides seem to be satisfied with the Senate map. If so, Sen. Davis ought to get her wish.

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