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Alabama

From Alabama to Texas

Here are two numbers from Sen.-elect Doug Jones’ victory over garbage human Roy Moore: 92.0% and 49.3%. Jones received 92.0% of the total vote that Hillary Clinton received in Alabama in 2016. Moore received 49.3% of Donald Trump’s vote total. Put that together and you see what you get.

Now of course Alabama was an extreme case, and there were some number of Republicans who voted for Doug Jones. We can’t really say how many since there weren’t ant other elections on that ballot for comparison, but it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that in Alabama, like in Virginia and New Jersey and multiple special elections around the country, Democratic turnout has been stronger than Republican turnout. In some places that was enough to push Democrats to victory, in others it merely reduced the gap. But it’s there, and it’s been there all year. Remember all those special Congressional elections, where Dems came close but couldn’t quite overcome the large Republican advantage in each? Here’s how they look by that metric of comparing candidates’ results in 2017 to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in 2016. All Congressional data comes from Daily Kos.

Kansas 04:

James Thompson, 62.2% of Clinton
Ron Estes, 38.4% of Trump

Montana at large:

Rob Quist, 93.7% of Clinton
Greg Gianforte, 67.9% of Trump

Georgia 06 runoff:

Jon Ossoff, 80.5% of Clinton
Karen Handel, 84.1% of Trump

South Carolina 05:

Archie Parnell, 35.4% of Clinton
Ralph Norman, 25.6% of Trump

Utah 03:

Kathie Allen, 43.7% of Clinton
John Curtis, 45.7% of Trump

Not every election had this characteristic – GA-06 was an outlier because Republicans were able to get their voters out, while I don’t think anyone outside Utah even noticed the UT-03 race – but most of them were, and the same was true in non-Congressional elections, too. This dKos spreadsheet has tracked every election since November of 2016, and documented the partisan shift in each, with a bonus comparison to 2012 as well. The overall trend is clear.

My point for bringing all this up is simply this: The national environment, and the resulting effect on enthusiasm levels for Democrats and Republicans, is and will be a factor in the 2018 election in Texas, just as it was in 2010 and 2014 to Republicans’ benefit and 2006 and 2008 to Democrats’. Alabama may be the most shocking example of this – well, the most shocking example since last month’s elections in Virginia, anyway – yet it seems to be discounted in the discussion of how the 2018 elections may play out here. It’s easy to talk about the lack of “name” candidates at the statewide level for Dems, and the amount of money that people like Greg Abbott have, and so on and so forth, but the bottom line is that base turnout level has been the Dems’ biggest problem in Texas, going back to 2002. I’ve harped on this multiple times, as you know. If that problem is solved, or at least mitigated, in 2018, in part by Democratic motivation to repudiate Trump and in part by a conscious decision noted by RG Ratcliffe to go bottom-up rather than top-down, then that’s a big step in the right direction. Yes, yes, yes, all the usual caveats apply. All I’m saying is that the national mood affects Texas, and right now that is working hard in Democrats’ favor. We all need to keep that in mind.

What about Roy?

Who wants to stand with this particular predator?

Texas’ two U.S. senators found themselves under intense pressure Thursday after explosive allegations surfaced that a candidate both men have endorsed pursued underage teenage girls decades ago.

The Washington Post is reporting that Roy Moore, the Alabama Republican nominee in an upcoming Senate special election to succeed U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, tried to become romantically involved with four girls between the ages of 14 and 18 while he was in his 30s.

U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz have both endorsed Moore in his bid.

[…]

Cornyn, the second-ranking GOP senator, called the allegations “deeply disturbing and troubling.”

“I think it’s up to the governor and the folks in Alabama to make that decision as far as what the next step is,” he said.

Cruz declined to answer questions as he passed reporters but said in a later statement, “These are serious and troubling allegations. If they are true, Judge Moore should immediately withdraw. However, we need to know the truth, and Judge Moore has the right to respond to these accusations.”

You should also read this. The way some of Cornyn and Cruz’s fellow Republicans have responded to this is quite astonishing, even in this day and age. Remember when the GOP branded itself as the party of virtue and values? Boy, those were the days.

It should be noted that the “if true” formulation here is basically meaningless. There’s not going to be any trial, so there won’t be a formal verdict to hold out for. Unless more women turn up with the same story – always a possibility, to be sure – this is all the evidence you’re going to get. Is that enough evidence? Only you and your conscience and your God can decide. Slate, which reminds us of Moore’s long record of gay bashing as a means of “protecting” children from predators much like himself, has more.

Paxton goes after DACA

I have no words.

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and officials from nine other states on Thursday urged the Trump administration to end an Obama-era program that’s allowed hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants to live and work in the country without fear of being deported.

In a letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Paxton urged the White House to rescind the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program. DACA applies to undocumented immigrants that came to the country before they were 16 years old and were 30 or younger as of June 2012. It awards recipients a renewable, two-year work permit and a reprieve from deportation proceedings.

As of August 2016, more than 220,000 undocumented immigrants in Texas had applied for a permit or a renewal of one under the program, and nearly 200,000 of those have been approved, according to government statistics. It’s the second-highest total behind California’s estimated 387,000 applications and 359,000 approvals during the same time frame.

“We respectfully request that the Secretary of Homeland Security phase out the DACA program,” Paxton wrote. He was joined by the attorneys general of Arkansas, Alabama, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia, as well as Idaho Gov. C.L. Otter.

“Specifically, we request that the Secretary of Homeland Security rescind the June 15, 2012 DACA memorandum and order that the Executive Branch will not renew or issue any new DACA or Expanded DACA permits in the future,” Paxton wrote.

[…]

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, or MALDEF, blasted the move and warned the signatories they’ll be remembered for being on the wrong side of history.

“Their evident xenophobia is not remotely consistent with the trajectory of our nation’s history and future progress,” MALDEF president and general counsel Thomas Saenz said in a statement. “Their political careers and each of their states will suffer from their mean-spirited stupidity.”

I don’t even know what to say about this. It’s cruel, it’s stupid, and I can’t think of a meaningful definition of “Christian” that would allow for it. The one sure to be effective thing we can do about this is to elect an Attorney General who won’t pull this crap. Nothing will change until we change who we elect. The Press, the Current, and Daily Kos have more.

Federal lawsuit filed in Alabama over statewide judicial elections

There are now at least two lawsuits like this in the federal courts.

Alabama Supreme Court

Alabama Supreme Court

Tuscaloosa reverend Curtis Travis has been voting his whole life in Alabama. While nearly one-fourth of the voting population, like him, is black, the three highest courts in the state are entirely white, and have been so for more than a decade.

On Wednesday, Travis and three other African American voters sued the state for conducting its judicial elections in a way they say prevents voters of color from electing the candidates of their choice. They argue that at-large elections, in which the entire state votes on all of the state’s top judges, has prevented them from electing anyone who truly represents them.

“There have been years of minorities making strides, but the white men continue to hold disproportionate power our state,” he said on a call with reporters. “Alabama is more diverse now than ever, but our judges are not.”

The Alabama State Conference of the NAACP, representing these four black voters, accused Alabama on Wednesday of violating the Voting Rights Act by electing all 19 of the state’s top judges in statewide, at-large races with partisan primaries. It is one of just five states to choose their judges this way.

Jim Blacksher, an Alabama civil rights attorney working on the case, said that the state’s extreme racial polarization and history of voter suppression made it a prime target for a lawsuit.

“The Republican Party has really mobilized the majority-white electorate of Alabama,” he said. “So the only way African Americans will have a chance to elect candidates of their choice is if the method of elections is changed.”

The plaintiffs are demanding the federal district court in Montgomery divide the state up into districts that each elect a member of the state’s Supreme Court and appellate courts. That way, the few sections of the state with majority-black populations have a chance at electing a judge of their choice to the courts.

The lawsuit notes that since 1994, every African American candidate that has run for any of the three top courts has lost to a white candidate. Only two black judges have ever been elected to the state Supreme Court, and zero have served on either the Court of Criminal Appeals or the Court of Civil Appeals in the entirety of the state’s history.

“We need to create a judiciary that reflects the great diversity you see across the great state of Alabama,” said Kristen Clarke, the president of the Lawyers’ Committee on Civil Rights Under Law.

I note this mostly because there was a similar lawsuit filed in Texas in July. As with this lawsuit, that filing requested a district system to replace the at-large one as the solution. (The Lawyers’ Committee on Civil Rights Under Law is involved in both cases.) I have mixed feelings about that, as 1) any district solution would also be subject to redistricting, and that has its own set of issues to contend with, and 2) in each case, the state could effectively pre-empt this litigation by switching to an all-appointment system, which also has its own set of issues. Which is not to say that the current setup is optimal, just that I don’t know right now what might be preferable to it. I mean, getting each of those states to a place where both parties are competitive at the statewide level would probably help, but good luck with that. Daily Kos has more.

Servergy sued by more people

Servergy is the company Ken Paxton was paid to shill for without being up front about the fact that he was being paid to shill for them. That’s the context of this.

Best mugshot ever

Best mugshot ever

The company tied to Attorney General Ken Paxton’s indictments lied to dozens of investors from Alabama about a “miracle” product it couldn’t sell, stockholders allege in a lawsuit that seeks to recoup nearly $3 million from the firm.

[…]

Now, dozens of Alabamans are suing, saying they invested $2.8 million in Servergy in 2013 after receiving “bogus” information about the firm’s success from Mapp and other leaders. Their stock is now worthless, they said, and they want their money back.

Their lawsuit was filed in February but hasn’t been previously reported. It was included as a “related pending case” in the federal lawsuit against Paxton. The attorney general is not mentioned by name and is not a target of the lawsuit, which was filed in Dallas County District Court, but the Alabama investors cite his indictment in their complaint.

In their suit, the Alabama investors said they were unaware the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission was investigating Servergy until the federal government sued the company to force it to comply with a subpoena for documents. Servergy never informed them of the probe, they say.

They allege that over the course of nearly a year in 2013, Servergy’s top officers held at least three “roadshow” presentations in their small city of Fairhope, hoping to entice new capital to help them fund a “miracle” server that was smaller yet more powerful than similar servers. Company representatives said they had pre-sold the server to Amazon, Netflix, NASA and the city of Beijing in China, and that Facebook, Walmart and CVS were also waiting on their product.

These claims “had no basis in fact,” the Alabama investors allege.

“Servergy’s claim that IBM and others were already waiting to buy out the Company, and that one such offer to purchase the Company already was in hand which would result in a quick 10-45% return for investors, was a lie,” the lawsuit says. “Even the chart that Servergy provided investors to tout the Company’s CTS-1000 server as compared to the competition was false.”

See here, here, and here for some background. This isn’t directly about Paxton, though without Servergy Paxton wouldn’t be in the trouble he’s in. And the allegations of utter dishonesty regarding the non-existent products Servergy – and by extension Paxton – was trying to get people to invest their money in goes to character. I mean, whatever the legalities of all this ultimately amount to, Paxton either had to know he was lying, or he didn’t do anywhere near the kind of due diligence he should have done before selling Servergy stock to his friends. His high-priced attorneys can’t make that fact go away.

SCOTUS upholds same-sex adoption rights

Awesome.

RedEquality

The U.S. Supreme Court in a victory for gay rights ruled Monday that states must honor adoptions by same-sex parents who move across state lines.

Citing the Constitution’s “full faith and credit” clause, the justices in a unanimous opinion rebuked the Alabama Supreme Court for denying a lesbian’s right to visit the three children she had adopted and raised with her former partner in Georgia.

Last year, a divided Supreme Court said same-sex couples had a constitutional right to marry in every state. But to the surprise of gay-rights advocates, the Alabama Supreme Court led by Chief Justice Roy Moore said in September that the woman’s adoption decree from Georgia was “void” and would not be honored.

Without bothering to hear arguments, the justices reversed the Alabama Supreme Court in an opinion that spoke for the full court.

The Alabama ruling “comports neither with Georgia law nor with common sense,” the justices said. “States may not disregard the judgment of a sister state because it disagrees with the reasoning or deems it to be wrong.”

Sarah Warbelow, legal director for the Human Rights Campaign, said the decision resolves one of the key outstanding issues in the wake of last year’s marriage ruling. “Everyone was waiting and watching for this case,” she said. “This should be the end of it now that the Supreme Court has weighed in.”

While the court’s conservatives dissented last year and said states should decide the marriage laws, they agreed Monday that the Constitution requires states to recognize legal judgments from other states.

That’s the nickel summary. What’s important about this ruling, in addition to what it actually was, is that it was unanimous and it came without any oral arguments. SCOTUS didn’t need to hear what the state of Alabama and any of its supporters had to say for themselves to know that their actions were wrong. That’s about as strong a message as they could send, one that may be loud enough for the Texas Legislature to hear. Don’t get me wrong, so-called “religious freedom” bills are definitely going to be at the top of the priority list. But with this clear message from SCOTUS, the bad guys may be forced to rein it in just a little. ThinkProgress and SCOTUSBlog have more.

Another redistricting update

Once again from Russ Tidwell, writing at Letters from Texas.

The three judge federal panel in San Antonio is nearing a final decision on redistricting litigation for the Texas House and congressional delegation.

As previously discussed here, multiple weeks of trial have provided a mountain of evidence of intentional discrimination and dilution of the opportunity for minority citizens to elect the candidates of their choice. The post-trial briefs were filed in December.

However, it appears the panel in San Antonio was waiting for further guidance from the U.S. Supreme Court in the form of a ruling in an Alabama redistricting case. That ruling came down on March 25, and it was a victory for the Alabama Legislative Black Caucus and the Alabama Democratic Conference. The San Antonio panel immediately ordered the Texas litigants to file additional briefs in light of this ruling. The last of those was filed Monday.

The Alabama case involved claims of improper racial gerrymandering and provided significant clarification to this distinct line of case law stretching back to the Shaw case in North Carolina. While minority plaintiffs in Texas felt they had adequately proven their claims of vote dilution and intentional discrimination, this ruling provided an additional clear roadmap for successful resolution of their claims.

[…]

In response to the San Antonio panel’s order, attorneys representing the Perez Plaintiffs, LULAC, and the NAACP filed a brief outlining how the evidence already before the court supports racial gerrymandering findings under the Alabama opinion. The brief documents the plaintiffs’ claims in eleven state house districts in Dallas, Tarrant, Harris, McLennan, Bell and Fort Bend Counties. Reversing the fragmentation of these districts would re-enfranchise over 1.2 million people of color in these six counties.

While MALC’s brief was consistent with and supportive of the Perez/NAACP/LULAC filing, it made additional claims in Nueces, Midland/Ector and Lubbock Counties. They rightfully argue that the Voting Rights Act (VRA) and the Fourteenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution should override the state’s constitutional “county line rule”. This would provide for the creation of three additional majority Hispanic districts.

See here and here for some background, and here for the LULAC demonstration Congressional map. The main piece of news here is that the San Antonio panel is nearing a decision. I do wonder if there’s time for this case to make it through the process for the 2016 election – I mean, we’re seven months out from the filing deadline, and we’re barely down the road. Would we have another election under the current maps, or would we get a different map in the interim? At this rate there won’t be a whole lot of elections left before it’s time for the next set of maps to be drawn. We’ll know more when we hear from the court, I guess.

SCOTUS rejects North Carolina redistricting

Of interest.

On Monday, the Supreme Court vacated a ruling from North Carolina’s highest court that had upheld Republican-drawn maps of the state’s congressional and legislative districts. While we don’t yet know what the final outcome will be, the court’s decision could have a real impact on one of the most aggressively partisan gerrymanders in the nation.

Democrats had argued that the new lines were unconstitutional because they’d improperly taken voters’ race into account; while this line of attack did not receive a receptive audience in state court, the SCOTUS decreed that in light of a recent decision of theirs in a similar case out of Alabama, the North Carolina Supreme Court had to reconsider its decision.

So what did that Alabama decision say? In that case, plaintiffs claimed that Republicans—who had their hands on the cartographer’s pencil there as well—had packed black voters into too few districts, “bleaching” surrounding districts and thus diminishing Democratic voting strength in those areas (because African-Americans almost always vote heavily for Democrats). There as here, a lower court sided with the defendants, but the Supreme Court disagreed and sent that case back down for a re-hearing last month. We’re still awaiting the results, and may yet for a while.

Opponents of North Carolina’s maps raised very similar arguments—take a look at the skinny, snake-like 12th District, which crams in a black majority running along a hundred-mile stretch of I-85 from Greensboro to Charlotte. They now find themselves in the same place as their peers in Alabama: waiting to see how a lower court decides the second time around. However, as legal scholar Rick Hasen explained when the Alabama decision was handed down, the Supreme Court’s ruling may only offer plaintiffs a “small” and “temporary” victory.

The reasons why this victory could be small and temporary are that this will go back to the state trial court, which will then give the NC legislature directions for drawing a new map. It may be that some fairly small fixes are all that’s needed, and of course one should never underestimate the motivation to draw maximal maps. Still, that’s two redistricting maps struck down by SCOTUS in recent months, which is certainly suggestive for the Texas redistricting litigation. The issues are somewhat different here, and we haven’t even gotten an appellate ruling yet, so we’re a long way off from hearing from SCOTUS. Keep it filed away for future reference anyway. The Hill has more.

Same sex marriage plaintiffs ask Fifth Circuit to lift the stay

They’ve got a strong case, based on recent SCOTUS action.

RedEquality

Attorneys for two gay couples are asking a federal appeals court to allow same-sex marriages to begin in Texas immediately.

In a motion filed Thursday, attorneys for the couples asked the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to lift a district judge’s stay of his 2014 decision striking down Texas’ marriage ban.

If the 5th Circuit agrees to lift the stay, it would clear the way for same-sex marriages to begin in Texas. If the 5th Circuit doesn’t lift the stay for all same-sex couples, the motion asks that it be lifted for the limited purpose of establishing the parental rights of plaintiff Cleopatra DeLeon, whose wife, Nicole Dimetman, is expecting a child in March.

The motion cites the U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal to halt same-sex marriages in both Alabama and Florida, after federal district judges struck down bans in those states. The high court will hear appeals from four states where same-sex marriage bans were upheld in April.

“The Supreme Court’s actions indicate that the stay of the District Court’s decision is no longer necessary,” the motion states. “The District Court expressly found that the denial of the fundamental right to marry causes irreparable harm. Despite this, Plaintiffs continue to suffer irreparable harm—only now the potential consequences are graver. As discussed further below, Plaintiffs De Leon and Dimetman are expecting a child any day, and the State’s refusal to recognize their marriage risks grave harm both to the Plaintiffs and the child.”

Neel Lane, an attorney for the couples, said in a statement he remains confident the 5th Circuit will rule in favor of marriage equality.

“But same-sex marriages are proceeding across the South and Southwest, while Texas remains the most populous state where gays and lesbians are deprived of that right,” Lane said. “Today we urge the Fifth Circuit to remedy that omission immediately.”

You can see the motion at the link above. At this point, everyone seems to think that the Supreme Court has indicated how it will rule when it hears the same sex marriage case before it. The question is whether the Fifth Circuit thinks so, too. The court appeared to be pointing in the right direction when oral arguments for the appeal of Judge Garcia’s ruling were heard. Judge Garcia himself declined to lift the stay that he had imposed after his ruling last year when he was asked to do so in November, but things have changed since then. I’ll say this much – if the Fifth Circuit does lift the stay, then it’s pretty much game over. It’s almost unthinkable that they would lift the stay, then overturn Judge Garcia’s ruling. I guess they could decide to keep it in place just to ensure that this all plays out till the very end. I don’t think that’s a good reason, but as you know I generally advise keeping one’s expectations low with the Fifth Circuit. We shall see. Trail Blazers and the Trib have more.

On a side note, because I feel like kicking Ted Cruz a little, there’s this.

Even as the U.S. Supreme Court gets ready to decide on a nationwide constitutional right to same-sex marriage, Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz on Tuesday reintroduced a bill that would leave it up to the states.

A potential 2016 GOP presidential candidate, Cruz also announced he will thrust himself into the gay marriage debate again later this year by introducing a constitutional amendment making explicit that marriage is a policy question for the states.

Meanwhile, Cruz, along with 11 other senators, brought back the State Marriage Defense Act, which died in last year’s Democratic-controlled Senate. U.S. Rep. Randy Weber, R-Friendswood, is introducing companion legislation in the House.

“Even though the Supreme Court made clear in United States v. Windsor that the federal government should defer to state ‘choices about who may be married,’ the Obama Administration has disregarded state marriage laws enacted by democratically-elected legislatures to uphold traditional marriage,” Cruz said in a statement.

Cruz’s bill would require that the federal government defer to the laws of the state where a couple resides to determine whether the couple is married for purposes of federal law.

I think I’m going to start taking up a collection to buy Cruz a lifetime supply of pacifiers for himself, because Lord is he the world’s biggest crybaby.

On redistricting and race

Phase Two of the redistricting trial is underway, and if it sounds an awful lot like Phase One to you, you would be right.

Texas’ Republican-controlled Legislature didn’t discriminate against minorities by drawing election maps in 2011 that voting-rights activists say make it harder for Hispanics and blacks to elect their candidates, a lawyer for the state argued Monday as the fight over redistricting continues.

“The plaintiffs must prove the state did more than favor Republicans and harm Democrats who happen to be minorities,” Assistant Texas Attorney General Angela Colmenero said in opening statements at a federal trial in San Antonio taking place before a three-judge panel.

She said that the evidence will show the state did not discriminate in redrawing the congressional maps. The state contends that the maps were designed to improve re-election chances for Republican incumbents and weaken Democratic opponents, not dilute minority voting strength.

Colmenero added that Texas’ explosive minority population growth, and the greatest jumps in the numbers of voting-age Latinos, “occurred in areas that were already Hispanic.”

The activist groups waived their right to give an opening statement.

But in court papers, they and the Justice Department argue that GOP lawmakers intentionally drew congressional districts in 2011 to curb the political power of the state’s booming Hispanic population.

Like I said, we’ve heard this before. The claim that it’s all just partisan politics and has nothing to do with race – nothing actionable, anyway – has been the foundation of the state’s case since the maps were first presented in 2011. Michael Li summed it up at one point as “they would be fine with non-Anglo people if they would just vote Republican”, and it’s easy to see why. Both the San Antonio court and the DC court had previously found reason to believe that the 2011 maps were intentionally discriminatory regardless, but I suppose as with the same sex marriage appellate brief, if a bad argument is all you’ve got, you’re going to keep making it. I also think the Texas Election Law Blog is right to suggest that what Abbott really has in mind is another shot at gutting the Voting Rights Act once the appeals make it to SCOTUS, so one can at least say there’s a method to the madness.

In the meantime, I want to call your attention to this New Republic story about the state of partisanship and race in Alabama.

Mike Hubbard, the speaker of the Alabama House, is not a beloved politician. His Republican colleagues call him “abrasive” and “divisive”; Democrats use other words. From his seat at the front of the House chamber, Hubbard presides in an aggressive fashion. He speaks in a rapid-fire auctioneer’s patter, barreling over anyone who questions his authority, and slams down his giant speaker’s gavel with alarming force. With his slicked-back hair and thin smile, he casts an almost predatory air. Hubbard, in other words, is no deal maker. And as the man who almost single-handedly won Republicans control of the legislature in 2010, he is the most powerful politician in the state.

Hubbard, who grew up in Georgia, moved to Alabama as a young man in the mid-’80s to work in the Auburn University athletic department; he later made a small fortune when he helped the school launch its own sports broadcasting network. In 1998, Hubbard won a seat in Alabama’s House of Representatives, which had been controlled by Democrats since 1874. But unlike so many of his Republican colleagues, Hubbard did not accept Democratic dominance as a fact of life. Instead, he was determined to end it.

It was the Democrats themselves who helped Hubbard realize his goal. During the 2001 legislative redistricting process, Joe Reed and other prominent black leaders were eager to further protect black incumbents. They successfully pushed to fill the House’s 27 majority-minority and the Senate’s eight majority-minority districts with even more black voters. In the process, they endangered the seats of white Democrats, who increasingly relied on African Americans to make up for the growing number of whites defecting to the GOP. James Blacksher, a civil rights attorney who advised Democrats on redistricting, is still stunned by the shortsightedness of this plan. It wasn’t so much a gerrymander, he told me, as a “dummymander.”

In 2002 and 2006, Republicans benefited from this tactical mistake, picking off white Democrats here and there. But in 2010, Hubbard, who had recently become the state Republican Party chairman, proposed the most audacious electoral plan in the history of the Alabama GOP. Rather than take out white Democrats piecemeal, he decided to eliminate them in one brutal election. He put together an 88-page playbook, innocuously titled GOP Alabama State Victory Plan 2010, and pushed the plan to conservative donors not just in the state, but all over the country. Alabama’s campaign-finance laws prohibited corporations from giving more than $500, and some Alabamans were reluctant to contribute to Republicans in case the GOP’s takeover plans didn’t come to fruition. But moneyed conservatives beyond Birmingham and Montgomery didn’t share those concerns and saw a chance to flip the statehouse. Hubbard and his finance chairman, State Senator Del Marsh, ultimately reaped more than $1 million in out-of-state contributions. And in one instance, Hubbard appears to have used a national group, the Republican State Leadership Council (RSLC), to effectively launder contributions to Alabama Republicans from politically toxic gambling interests—a scheme, Politico’s Alexander Burns recently reported, that the RSLC’s lawyers concluded could result in “possible criminal penalties” if it was ever discovered.

Hubbard couldn’t have chosen a better time to attempt a takeover. The election of Obama, and white Alabamans’ visceral distaste for the president (88 percent voted against him in 2008), created a massive shift in the state’s politics. For many years, white voters had often split their tickets, voting Republican in federal and gubernatorial contests but sticking with the Democrats in legislative campaigns. Hubbard realized that, by nationalizing Alabama’s 2010 state races and putting Obama on center stage, he could bring that to an end. Hubbard himself had always been careful never to speak in explicitly racial terms. (Not all of his Republican colleagues were so circumspect. In 2010, a state senator named Scott Beason was caught on a wiretap referring to black Alabamans as “aborigines.”) Now, he didn’t need to explicitly invoke race—he only needed to mention Obama. As the state GOP put it in one ad, “After 136 years, the Democrats have brought us Obama, Pelosi, government health care, liberal policies, higher taxes, and wasteful spending.”

Suddenly, even entrenched white Democrats like Lowell Barron, who’d been in the Senate for 28 years, found themselves in trouble. “People weren’t voting against me in 2010, they were voting against that black man in the White House,” says Barron. “They were pretty specific about it, only they didn’t refer to him as a black man.” Some Republicans concede as much. “Anybody who denies that Barack Obama’s unpopularity in Alabama didn’t help Republicans come to power is just not being truthful about it,” Republican State Senator Cam Ward told me.

The transformation of Alabama politics was nearly instantaneous. Prior to the 2010 election, the Alabama House had 60 Democratic members, 34 of them white and 26 black. Afterward, there were 36 Democrats—ten white, 26 black. Meanwhile, in the Alabama Senate, the number of black Democrats remained seven, while the number of white Democrats fell from 13 to four. The casualties included Barron, who lost to a first-time Republican candidate.

All of this was enough to give the GOP supermajorities in both chambers. Hubbard assumed his role as speaker of the House, and Marsh was elected Senate president pro tem. Having wrested control of the statehouse, now they could begin to change the state.

Link via Ed Kilgore, who adds his own thoughts. Let’s see, we’ve got extreme partisan redistricting, targeting of Anglo Democrats, Republican supermajorities post 2010, an influx of possibly illegal outside money affecting the outcome of elections – any of this sound familiar? And with those supermajorities, black legislators – now a minority in more ways than one – have been marginalized in the legislative process, which is what will happen to Democratic Senators here if Dan Patrick gets sworn in as Lt. Governor next year. Let’s hope we don’t look back on this in a few years and see that it was our future as well.

Is Section 5 doomed?

While there’s been a lot of reporting and analysis suggesting a grim future for the Voting Rights Act, SCOTUSBlog’s Lyle Denniston suggests that maybe, just maybe, Section 5 ain’t dead yet.

Sometimes, in Supreme Court argument, a single phrase can speak volumes. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, the one member of the Court who bore the most watching because the other eight seemed clearly to divide evenly, used the phrase “trusteeship of the United States government” as a shorthand way to describe how he views the regime set up by the Voting Rights Act of 1965 works. Of course, he meant it as a denunciation.

If Kennedy believes that there is no way to justify any longer that kind of oversight of nine states that have to do the most to obey the 1965 law, that law may well be doomed. But it also was Kennedy who left the impression that he might be willing to go along with a potential way to short-circuit the case of Shelby County v. Holder, and allow the law to survive for some time more.

[…]

But those who had attended the Court’s last hearing on the constitutionality of the 1965 law, four years ago, could recall that Kennedy was equally disturbed then about the threat he saw to states’ rights, and yet the Court concluded that case without striking down the law. It found a way to ease the burden of the law, for local governments, and left it at that.

As the new appeal, by Alabama’s Shelby County, reached the Court, there does not appear to be a ready method of avoiding the constitutional issue — provided that the Court is satisfied that Shelby County’s case is the proper one in which to reach it. And the possibility that it may not be the best test case came up early in the argument, and Kennedy, too, showed some interest in it.

Within the first minutes of the argument of the county’s lawyer, Washington attorney Bert W. Rein, Justice Sonia Sotomayor suggested that Shelby County’s record on minority voting rights had remain “pretty much” unchanged from the past. “You may be the wrong party bringing this,” she commented.

Justice Elena Kagan soon recited the current record of Alabama under existing civil rights laws, noting that the state would be the No. 1 offender in one category, and the No. 2 in another. “Under any formula that Congress could devise [for coverage under Section 5], it would capture Alabama,” Kagan said.

[…]

These questions and comments suggested that, if Alabama and its local jurisdictions could not escape from the law no matter how Congress revised the formula to deal with ongoing discrimination, then the state and Shelby County might not be able to claim any harm from it — and thus not be in a position even to challenge it in court.

It is not surprising, of course, that the Court’s more liberal members would want to find a way to avoid an ultimate decision to strike down the historic law, and they — like everyone else in the courtroom — could sense that that was a real possibility.

But what was potentially significant was that Kennedy perked up. He noted the questions by Kagan and Sotomayor, and asked Rein: “If you would be covered under any formula, why are you injured under this one?” The lawyer said he did not agree with the premise.

Kennedy persisted, saying that Rein should deal with “the hyp0thesis” that any formula would capture Alabama. Why would Alabama have a right to complain? Rein then challenged the authority of Congress to focus on a few selective jurisdictions, like Shelby County, and not look all across the nation to see if the problem of racial bias in voting was prevalent there, too.

Ruling that Shelby County doesn’t have a claim is an option that Dennison discussed previously. It’s a thin reed, and would be at most a temporary reprieve, since there are other cases in the queue that could serve the same purpose, if the purpose is to kill the VRA. But it’s something, for what it’s worth. Rick Hasen, on the other hand, is certain Section 5 is doomed. If Chief Justice John Roberts leads the way in overturning the VRA, you could say it’s the culmination of his life’s work, though Justice Scalia and his evolving view of “original intent” will get an assist. All we can do at this point is wait. The irony of all this happening as a statue of Rosa Parks was being unveiled is off the charts. Texas Redistricting has more, and see what Mustafa Tameez has to say about the VRA and Asian-American voters.

What next for Wilshire Village?

Nancy Sarnoff runs an obituary for the Wilshire Village apartments, which are slated for demolition now that they have been officially declared a fire hazard.

A historic Inner Loop apartment complex, once slated for a high-rise redevelopment, was shut down last week after city officials ordered residents to vacate the property.

[…]

The complex is the 1940s Wilshire Village apartments at the corner of West Alabama and Dunlavy, one of three Federal Housing Administration-insured garden apartment complexes built here and the only one still in existence, according to architectural historian Stephen Fox.

In 2005, the owner announced plans to tear it down and possibly build an upscale tower in its place.

Matt Dilick, a commercial real estate developer who controls the partnership that owns Wilshire Village, said the demolition process will start “relatively soon.”

“The buildings are unsafe, and for numerous years prior groups have not kept the buildings maintained or the property up to city code,” he said. “The dilapidated buildings are an eyesore to the public and to the numerous homeowners and businesses in the area.”

[…]

As far the property’s redevelopment, “plans have not been released,” said Dilick, adding that the prime site is best suited for apartments, shops and a hotel.

Okay, an apartment is obvious; one hopes this one will be better maintained than the Wilshire ultimately was. Shops I can see, as long as they figure out how to incorporate parking. The other side of Dunlavy is a strip center anchored by a Fiesta, so more shops would fit in just fine. But a hotel? And was this really considered a good spot for a high-rise? I can’t see it. Dunlavy is a narrow little street. It’s not particularly close to an entrance or exit on 59, which would seem to be a negative for a hotel. It’s not far from Greenway Plaza or the Museum District, but as far as I know there’s no shortage of hotels in those areas, certainly not one acute enough that it would need to be relieved by new construction there. It’s all bungalows in the immediate area, so anything over three stories would stick out like a sore thumb. Basically, it’s analogous to the Ashby Highrise, with slightly better vehicular throughput potential and probably less political clout. I don’t see how a hotel makes sense, and I don’t even see how a developer might see how a hotel makes sense. Am I missing something?

Actually, there is one possibility: The Universities line will have a stop at Dunlavy, so the area will have very easy access to light rail. Maybe that figures in to the calculation. Whether that’s the case or not, I hope whoever redevelops the property includes improvements to the sidewalk, as that will make getting to that rail stop much more pleasant. And hopefully whatever does get built there will be at least mostly done before the U-line is in place, so that stretch won’t be all torn up while people are trying to get to the station. Swamplot has more.

Wilshire Village declared a fire hazard

That happened on Thursday. More from Swamplot here and here. What a bizarre end to such an eccentric little development. I just hope that when the owners finally get to tear the place down, as they seem to want to do, the property doesn’t sit empty for a year or more.

Wilshire Village update

Swamplot has more on the Wilshire Village Apartments situation; apparently, there’s some question as to the legality of the eviction notices that the residents received. Meanwhile, Hair Balls satisfies my curiosity with some interior photos of the place. It does look better on the inside. That’s not saying much, given the sad state the exterior is in, but it’s easy to see how this place, given some love and an owner that cared, could be a real gem again. Seems unlikely that will happen, unfortunately; we’ll just have to see what replaces it. That’s Houston for you.

Wilshire Village Apartments

Normally, another story about another old and rundown apartment complex in Houston being set for demolition isn’t that noteworthy, at least for me, but this Swamplot post about the Wilshire Village Apartments struck a chord with me because I used to live practically next door to them. In the early 90s I lived in a duplex on Branard, just east of Woodhead, which cul-de-sacced into Wilshire Village. I once tried to cut through the complex as a shortcut to the Fiesta (then a Safeway or AppleTree, I forget which) and got accosted by an angry dude (I presume a resident) who yelled at me to get the hell out. Anyway, I have no idea why you’d want to demolish a complex that apparently still has paying residents in this economic climate, and I hate the idea of it being replaced by a highrise – that area had too much traffic 15-20 years ago – but that’s how it goes around here. Hair Balls has more.