Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

NAACP

Moving forward on Section 3

There’s still redistricting litigation action happening.

Late Friday afternoon, the coalition of voting rights groups that have fought the state for fairer legislative districts since the last round of redistricting in 2010 filed a pair of new briefs with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas in Austin. They seek to have the state forced back into federal preclearance under the Voting Rights Act.

States subject to the VRA’s preclearance provision must seek and receive federal approval for any changes they make to any law that applies to voting. Texas has been free from the requirement since 2013, when the Supreme Court cleared the list of states subject to preclearance, but could be placed back on the naughty list if federal courts determine that the state is intentionally discriminatory in its voting laws.

The groups argue that returning Texas to preclearance status for at least the next five years is the only thing that will stop state legislators from drawing unconstitutional district boundaries during the state’s next round of redistricting following the 2020 elections.

“[T]his vital, but time-limited remedy — this Court’s imposition of a preclearance requirement and retention of jurisdiction — is the most statutorily appropriate and equitable action that can ensure the State’s next redistricting plans do not discriminate against minority voters, particularly in light of this Court’s identification of the recent intentional discrimination employed by the State in redistricting and the persistent pattern of discriminatory governmental action in Texas directed at minority voters for generations,” the plaintiffs write.

[..]

“The Supreme Court held that the discriminatory intent of the 2011 legislature was erroneously imputed to the 2013 legislature, it left the findings of intentional discrimination as to the 2011 plans untouched, ‘express[ing] no view on the correctness of this holding,’” the plaintiffs, including the League of United Latin American Citizens and the Texas State Conference of NAACP Branches, write. “This Court’s findings of intentional discrimination in the 2011 Congressional and State House plans remain in place, and these findings — coupled with Texas’s persistent history of continued intentional discrimination — amply justify Plaintiffs’ request for relief under Section 3(c) [of the Voting Rights Act].”

See here and here for the background. The joint plaintiffs and Quesada plaintiffs’ petition for relief under Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act is here, the Task Force plaintiffs’ request is here, and every legal document associated with the case is here; scroll all the way to the bottom to see the most recent stuff. I haven’t seen any other news about these filings, so I guess this subject isn’t as sexy as it once was. Understandable, given the SCOTUS vandalism to the Voting Right Act, not to mention the likelihood of success, but this is still important. The state has till January 15 to respond. I’ll keep an eye on it.

SCOTUS upholds Texas redistricting

Screw this.

Extinguishing the possibility that Texas could be placed back under federal electoral supervision, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday pushed aside claims that lawmakers intentionally discriminated against voters of color when they enacted the state’s congressional and state House maps.

In a 5-4 vote, the high court threw out a lower court ruling that had found that lawmakers intentionally undercut the voting power of Hispanic and black voters, oftentimes to keep white incumbents in office. The Supreme Court found that the evidence was “plainly insufficient” to prove that the 2013 Legislature acted in “bad faith.”

The Supreme Court also ruled that all but one of the 11 congressional and state House districts that had been flagged as problematic could remain intact. The one exception was Fort Worth-based House District 90, which is occupied by Democratic state Rep. Ramon Romero and was deemed an impermissible racial gerrymander because lawmakers illegally used race as the predominant factor in deciding its boundaries.

The Supreme Court’s ruling, which keeps all but one of the state’s districts in place through the end of the decade, is a major blow to the maps’ challengers — civil rights groups, voters of color and Democratic lawmakers — who since 2011 have been fighting the Republican-controlled Legislature’s post-2010 Census adjustment of district boundaries.

[…]

Joined by the court’s three other liberal justices, Justice Sonia Sotomayor denounced the majority’s opinion as a “disregard of both precedent and fact” in light of the “undeniable proof of intentional discrimination” against voters of color.

“Those voters must return to the polls in 2018 and 2020 with the knowledge that their ability to exercise meaningfully their right to vote has been burdened by the manipulation of district lines specifically designed to target their communities and minimize their political will,” Sotomayor wrote. “The fundamental right to vote is too precious to be disregarded in this manner.”

In siding with the state, the Supreme Court tossed out claims of intentional vote dilution in state House districts in Nueces County and Bell County as well as claims that Hispanic voters were “packed” into Dallas County districts to minimize their influence in surrounding districts. The high court also rejected challenges to Congressional District 27 — where the lower court said lawmakers diluted the votes of Hispanics in Nueces County — and Congressional District 35, which the lower court flagged as an impermissible racial gerrymander.

But perhaps most significant on the voting rights front was the Supreme Court’s ruling that the state could be not be held liable for intentional discrimination of Hispanic and black voters.

See here and here for the background. The opinion is here if you have the stomach for it. You sure can accomplish a lot if you close your eyes and wave away evidence. I don’t know what else there is for me to say, so I’ll just refer you to Pema Levy, Ian Millhiser, Martin Longman, and Mark Joseph Stern. What Rick Hasen wrote five years ago sure looks prescient now.

So where do we stand with handing over voter info to the Trump commission?

The DMN asks the question.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Have state officials turned over Texas voter information to the federal government?

In short, not yet.

A lawsuit by the Texas NAACP and the Texas League of Women Voters has halted the state’s release of that information to the commission after a Travis County district judge granted the groups a temporary restraining order in October. But the state has taken its case to an appeals court, arguing the lower court has no jurisdiction.

The appeals court has given no timeline on when it will rule on the matter, but until then no voter information will be shared with the fraud commission, which agreed in September to halt its request until the jurisdiction question was resolved.

[…]

Justin Levitt, an election law professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said it is unclear whether the commission is subject to the Federal Advisory Committee Act, so Texas should think twice about handing over its voter roll information. But if it’s not subject to that law, the commission may be under other constraints about what information it can request and how it can do so.

“That’s what the federal lawsuits are about. It’s an open question,” said Levitt, who oversaw voting rights battles for the Department of Justice under President Barack Obama.

Until those questions are resolved, Levitt said, there is nothing obligating Texas to turn over the information.

“This is just a request,” he said. “There’s nothing in Texas state law and nothing in federal law that I’m aware of that would force Texas to give the data over.”

See here, here, and here for the background. The lawsuit from which the injunction came was filed in state court, but as noted later in the piece there were federal lawsuits filed as well. And just as I was prepping to queue this post up for publication, this happened.

President Trump signed an executive order late Wednesday disbanding his own election integrity commission after less than eight months, saying he didn’t want to waste taxpayer money fighting with state governments over their voter data.

But the co-chairman of the panel, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, said the investigation into alleged voter fraud would continue — and could pick up speed without the formalities of a commission.

Trump said the commission’s work will now go to the Department of Homeland Security.

“Despite substantial evidence of voter fraud, many states have refused to provide the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity with basic information relevant to its inquiry,” Trump said in a statement through his press secretary. “Rather than engage in endless legal battles at taxpayer expense, today I signed an executive order to dissolve the commission, and have asked the Department of Homeland Security to review these issues and determine next courses of action,” Trump said.

Good riddance, I say, though it sounds like we’re not quite out of the woods yet. Keep up the good fight against this travesty. Think Progress, Daily Kos, and Mother Jones have more.

SOS halted from handing over voter info

Good.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

A Texas district judge has issued a temporary restraining order preventing Texas Secretary of State Rolando Pablos from handing voter information to President Donald Trump’s voter fraud investigation commission.

The order, which came out Tuesday, adds Texas to a growing list of states not complying with the president’s investigation into the 2016 elections, which Trump says suffered from large-scale voter fraud.

Judge Tim Sulak of the Austin-based 353rd Texas Civil District Court issued the order in response to a lawsuit filed July 20 by the League of Women Voters of Texas, its former president Ruthann Geer and the Texas NAACP against Pablos and Keith Ingram, the Texas Elections Division director in the the secretary of state’s office. The lawsuit seeks to stop the state from handing over voter data from the state’s computerized voter registration files to the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. The suit argues that doing so would reveal voters’ personal information, “which may be used to solicit, harass, or otherwise infringe upon the privacy of Texas voters.”

[…]

The League’s current president, Elaine Wiant, said the organization is especially concerned that releasing the data could make millions of voters’ personal information public, making it vulnerable to commercial use. Texas law forbids public voter information from being used commercially, but with the presidential commission, Wiant said “there is no guarantee how it will get used.” Wiant also said the League is concerned that releasing the data would make voters’ birthdates public.

“In today’s world, that is just way too much information to be made available to the public,” Wiant said. “There are serious security concerns.”

The order, which expires Oct. 17 or with further order from the court, says that handing over voter information could cause “irreparable” injury. Without “appropriate safeguards,” the order argues, the data is likely to become public, potentially violating voters’ privacy rights, their interests in “avoiding commercial solicitation, chilling of their First Amendment rights, and the diminution of their efforts to encourage voting.”

See here and here for the background. There will be a hearing on the 16th, at which time this will presumably be extended or rescinded. In the meantime, the Trump commission has other legal problems to worry about. Let’s hope this is the end of it in Texas.

Lawsuit filed over giving voter data to bogus Trump commission

I missed this last week.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The League of Women Voters of Texas and the Texas NAACP said Thursday they have sued Texas Secretary of State Rolando Pablos over plans to release voter information to President Donald Trump’s election commission.

Texas law requires that safeguards be met to ensure such data isn’t used improperly, the groups said, and they must be followed before any data is sent to the Presidential Advisory Commission on Voter Integrity.

“The Secretary of State should strictly follow state law if he releases any voter information to the Commission,” Elaine Wiant, president of the League of Women Voters of Texas, said in a news release. “Releasing personal information could result in identity theft, causing great harm to Texas voters. Further, we fear that the Commission’s goal is voter suppression, not voter participation.”

See here for the background. This is separate from the open records request made by the ACLU of Texas. The suit was filed in state court in Travis County, and it alleges that the request violates Texas election statutes. . You can see the complaint here – it’s a bit dense for me, so I’ll leave it to the lawyers to offer an opinion. It’s fine by me if these plaintiffs succeed in getting an injunction, and as noted by the Brennan Center, Texas is not the only state where such a lawsuit has been filed. We’ll see how it goes – among other things, I’ll be very interested to see how the state responds to this. How hard will they fight for this if a judge puts a halt to it? It’s not clear to me that it’s in the Republican leadership’s best political interests to go balls to the wall on this one.

Redistricting trial week begins

This will be the main event of the week.

Eight months ahead of the 2018 primaries, Texas and its legal foes on Monday will kick off a week-long trial that could shake up races across the state.

The state and minority rights groups have been squabbling for six years over new political district boundaries drawn following the 2010 census. As part of a long-winding legal battle, a panel of three federal judges this week will reconvene in a federal courthouse here to consider the validity of the state’s political maps and whether changes should quickly be made to the state’s House and Congressional boundaries ahead of the midterm elections. At issue is whether the current boundaries violate the voting rights of millions of Texans of color.

The showdown comes months after the panel of judges found fault with the state’s 2011 drafts of the political maps. In a pair of rulings this spring, the judges also found that Texas lawmakers intentionally discriminated against minority voters in crafting them.

Those rulings did not require an immediate remedy because the state has been running elections since 2013 under court-drawn maps that were crafted amid an election scramble and later adopted by the Legislature.

But the judges are now turning their attention to the existing boundaries.

There’s an overview of how we got here and what is at stake in that story and also in this Statesman story, which notes the time factor:

Don’t expect immediate gratification. When the trial closes Friday or Saturday, the judges will take the matter under advisement — though a written ruling is expected relatively quickly as the court labors under looming election deadlines.

State officials have advised the court that any new maps would have to be ready by around Oct. 1 to meet deadlines for setting precinct lines and to allow candidate filing for the 2018 primaries to begin, as scheduled, in mid-November. Complicating the timing will be the inevitable appeal that the losing side will make directly to the U.S. Supreme Court.

If new maps are needed, the judges likely will order additional input on how to redraw district boundaries, lawyers said Friday.

The maps in question are the Congressional and State House maps that were implemented in 2013. Those maps in turn are basically identical to the interim maps created in 2011 after preclearance was rejected; the Lege adopted them with a couple of tweaks. The state claims that since the current maps are based on ones that had been drawn by the court, they cannot be discriminatory. The plaintiffs note that the 2013 maps differ only a little from the 2011 maps, which were ruled to be discriminatory, and that many of the problematic elements of the 2011 maps exist in the same form in the 2013 maps. The trial this week is to answer the question whether the existing maps are discriminatory, and if so what should replace them and also should the state be bailed back into preclearance under Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act. This Brennan Center article explains it better than I just did, with more details.

Here’s the Trib Day One story. A couple of highlights:

With Texas becoming less white each day, lawyers for minority rights groups opened their push for new maps by parsing the state’s demographic growth, which shows that the population of eligible white voters has significantly declined since 2010.

When asked by federal district Judge Orlando Garcia how this relates to the 2013 maps, the Mexican American Legislative Caucus’ lawyer, Jose Garza, indicated it was proof that Texans of color don’t have proportional representation under the maps currently in place.

“Even today … minorities are underrepresented when measured against population data and population figures,” Garza said.

MALC also presented an alternative map to demonstrate that the state House boundaries could have been drawn in a way that minimized the slicing of municipalities and created additional “opportunity districts” where minority voters are able to select their preferred candidates.

Creating that type of district was not a legislative priority when the House took on redistricting in 2013; lawmakers only made “cosmetic changes” that didn’t “improve the overall map for minority opportunity,” former state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer testified before the court.

In 2011, state lawmakers drew legislative and congressional maps following the 2010 census, but they were immediately challenged in court on the basis that they diluted the voting strength of Hispanic and black voters. The court drew interim maps amid an election scramble, and the Legislature in 2013 moved to adopt them.

Martinez Fischer argued that efforts to improve those maps for minority representation were rebuffed by the Republican majority.

“It was almost all upon deaf ears,” Martinez Fischer said.

All the plaintiffs’ briefs for the trial can be found here. The demonstration map mentioned in the story for the State House is H391, and C285 is for Congress, with the former drawn by MALC and the latter by MALC, LULAC, and the Perez plaintiffs. There more of these – go to http://gis1.tlc.state.tx.us/, choose a Shaded Plan, change the Category to All, and scroll down. The last maps listed for each type will be the ones being shown in the trial. Michael Li of the Brennan Center is live-tweeting the trial, so follow along with him for the play-by-play. I’ll do my best to keep up as well.

Motion filed to block current Congressional map

From the Lone Star Project.

Moments ago the Plaintiffs in the ongoing Texas congressional redistricting case filed a joint motion asking the San Antonio Federal District Court for an injunction to block the use of the current congressional map during the 2018 mid-term elections.  The motion also suggests a schedule to adopt a new map for use in the 2018 elections.

On March 10, the three-judge Federal District Court in San Antonio with jurisdiction in the Texas case ruled that the congressional plan adopted by Texas Republican leaders in 2011 was intentionally discriminatory in violation the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act.  The Court found violations in Corpus Christi, San Antonio, Austin and the DFW area.

The Plaintiff’s motion explains that the current congressional map retains many of the violations identified by the Court in the 2011 map; therefore, it should not be used in the 2018 election.  Plaintiffs wrote:

“Delaying entry of an injunction following this Court’s finding that the 2011 congressional plan was illegal and unconstitutional, and that elements of these violations persist in C235, would unjustifiably risk forcing Plaintiffs, and, indeed, millions of Texans to elect members of Congress under a legally invalid plan.”

The motion also lays out a timeline to configure a remedial map to use in the 2018 elections.  Texas Republican leaders are given until May 5, 2017 to submit a remedial plan to the Court. Plaintiffs will be required to respond to the state’s map by May 12, 2017.  An order confirming a final remedial map would be issued by July 1, 2017.

Lone Star Project Director Matt Angle released the following statement:
“Every Texan is harmed when statewide leaders engage in intentional discrimination, and no Texan should be subject to the results of an election conducted under an intentionally discriminatory congressional plan.

“The federal court in San Antonio has made clear time and again that they will protect the rights of Texans, and the plaintiffs have laid out a common-sense process to put a legal map in place.”

See here and here for the background. We’re going to need to get something going if there’s to be a chance to have a proper map in place for 2018. (And remember, this is just the Congressional map. We’re still waiting for a ruling on the legislative map, which may require the same process.) As the Trib notes, the state will oppose this motion, so that may draw things out further. We’ll see how it goes.

Court rules several Congressional districts were illegally drawn

Bam!

Some of Texas’ 36 congressional districts violate either the U.S. Constitution or the federal Voting Rights Act, a panel of federal judges ruled Friday.

In a long-delayed ruling, the judges ruled 2-1 that the Texas Legislature must redraw the political maps it most recently used for the 2016 elections.

Specifically, they pointed to Congressional District 23, which stretches from San Antonio to El Paso, takes in most of the Texas-Mexico border and is represented by Republican Will Hurd of Helotes; Congressional District 27, represented by Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi; and Congressional District 35, a Central Texas district represented by Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin.

The 166-page ruling by the San Antonio-based district was the latest in a complicated case that dates back to 2011, and comes just two election cycles away from the next U.S. Census — when the state would draw a new map under normal circumstances.

In 2013, the district court found evidence that lawmakers intentionally discriminated when redrawing the boundaries. But the U.S. Supreme Court soon complicated the case when it struck down a key section of the Voting Rights Act that had forced Texas to seek permission before making changes to election procedures.

But that didn’t end the legal battle. The U.S. Department of Justice and other plaintiffs pressed on in the case, and Texas held elections using interim maps drawn by judges.

In its decision Friday, the court still found that “mapdrawers acted with an impermissible intent to dilute minority voting strength or otherwise violated the Fourteenth Amendment” of the Constitution.

“The Court finds that this evidence persuasively demonstrates that mapdrawers intentionally packed [concentrated certain populations] and cracked [diluted certain populations] on the basis of race (using race as a proxy for voting behavior) with the intent to dilute minority voting strength,” U.S. District Judges Orlando Garcia and Xavier Rodriguez wrote in the majority opinion.

In his dissenting opinion, Judge Jerry Smith of the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals called the case moot under previous rulings, and he  sharply criticized the Justice Department.

Tale about a Friday news dump – I literally saw this on Facebook just before going to bed Friday night. We have been waiting forever for a ruling in this case. Note that this is only half of what we have been waiting for – there is still a ruling to come on the State House map, too. But for now, the status of the 2018 elections has changed. The Lone Star Project adds on.

The court singled out violations in the Corpus Christi region involving District 27 (Farenthold – R), in the South Texas/Border region involving District 23 (Hurd – R) and in the Austin to San Antonio region involving District 35 (Doggett – D). The Court also ruled that minority voters in the Dallas/Fort Worth area were illegally cracked under the 2011 map.

While it is too early to know exactly what changes will be made, it is fair to read the opinion as requiring that Hispanic voters put into Anglo-controlled CD27 in the current map must be returned to an effective Hispanic district, that Hispanic voting strength weakened in District 23 must be restored, and that District 35 in the Austin to San Antonio corridor will have to be modified to reunite minority voters in a far less fragmented district centered in Austin.

In Dallas/Fort Worth, the creation of District 33 (Veasey – D) in the current map may have resolved some of the blatant violations under the 2011 map; however, arguments will be made to repair remaining cracked Hispanic and African American neighborhoods in Dallas and Tarrant counties.

The ruling is a major victory for minority citizens and their advocates before the court. Minority advocacy groups including LULAC, NAACP, the Mexican American Legislative Caucus and citizen plaintiff groups led by Congressman Marc Veasey and State Representative Eddie Rodriguez had the courage to challenge the GOP map and the tenacity to stay with a long and difficult court battle. Their efforts have defended and protected the voting rights of thousands of otherwise disenfranchised Texas citizens. The Lone Star Project has been engaged in the Texas redistricting battle from the onset and will continue to provide support to key plaintiffs in this important effort.

We should expect the San Antonio Court to schedule a hearing soon to discuss the additional deliberations needed to fully resolve the case and to reach a final remedy. It is also likely that Governor Greg Abbott will refuse give up Texas GOP efforts to protect a discriminatory redistricting process and will direct state attorneys to explore appeal options.

I’d say it’s not “likely” that Abbott appeals, it’s a 100% gold-plated certainty. Rick Hasen quotes from the majority decision to explain what that “minority voters in the Dallas/Fort Worth area were illegally cracked under the 2011 map” means:

Plaintiffs have established a § 2 violation, both in terms of intent and effect, in South/West Texas. Plaintiffs have shown that seven compact majority-HCVAP districts could and should be drawn there that would substantially address the § 2 rights of Hispanic voters in South/West Texas, including Nueces County. Defendants’ decision to place Nueces County Hispanic voters in an Anglo district had the effect and was intended to dilute their opportunity to elect their candidate of choice.

Meanwhile, race predominated in the drawing of CD35, and Defendants’ decision to place majority- in Travis County was not to comply with the VRA but to minimize the number of Democrat districts in the plan overall. Plaintiffs have established a Shaw-type equal protection violation with regard to CD35. Plaintiffs also establish a Shaw-type equal protection violation with regard to CD23. In addition, Defendants’ manipulation of Latino voter turnout and cohesion in CD23 denied Latino voters equal opportunity and had the intent and effect of diluting Latino voter opportunity. Nueces County Hispanics and Hispanic voters in CD23 have proved their § 2 results and intentional vote dilution claims. The configurations of CD23, CD27, and CD35 in Plan C185 are therefore invalid.

Plaintiffs fail to proffer a demonstration plan accompanied by sufficient evidence to demonstrate that additional compact minority districts could be drawn in DFW or Houston, taking into account traditional redistricting principles and communities of interest. However, they are not precluded from raising § 2 results claims with regard to Plan C235 during the trial on that plan. Plaintiffs have proved intentional vote dilution through packing and cracking in DFW and also establish a Shaw-type racial gerrymandering claim with regard to CD26, but not CD6. However, they fail to prove intentional vote dilution in the Houston area, and fail to prove that mapdrawers acted with racially discriminatory purpose when drawing the districts represented by the African-American Congresspersons.

Well, okay, we’ll need to see a proposed remedy to understand what that means, but the bottom line is that four districts could be directly affected – CDs 23, 26, 27, and 35 – with ancillary changes to some number of adjoining districts. In a subsequent post, Hasen provides some extra guidance to this decision.

2. Bail in. It probably is not obvious to those not steeped in this area, but the big fight here is not about these particular districts (although that is important) but whether Texas gets put back under Section 5 preclearance for up to 10 years. That is possible under Section 3, the “bail-in” provision of the VRA which gives a court the ability to impose preclearance after a finding of intentional race discrimination. That finding is here, and the case is still going to go forward on that issue (as well as some other issues). Further, the finding of intentional race discrimination will almost certainly be relied on if, as I expect, the trial court in the Texas voter id case, finds intentional racial discrimination and orders bail in. So this is huge. (The caveat is how a Trump DOJ would enforce such rights if Trump is still in office. I’m not optimistic, and there’s no appeal of a DOJ decision to grant preclearance. Preclearance of post-2020 redistricting will depend on who wins the 2020 presidential elections.)

3. Race or party. I have been writing a lot about the race or party question: what to do about claims of racial discrimination when, as in the American South, race and party are so closely correlated. The majority approach, is subtle and sophisticated on this question, and seems to fall mostly on the party as a proxy for race (“party as race”) approach to the question. When you make it harder for minority voters to exercise political power for your own political reasons (such as protecting incumbents or your party), this counts as intentional race discrimination. Judge Smith takes the “race or party” approach, and he believes he knows what’s “really” going on: this is all about party, rather than race. It is either blind to the realities or ignoring the fact that these two criteria are really inseparable in Texas.

4. The remedy and what comes next. The trial court does not order anything to happen right now. The parties will fight about the remedy. Likely Texas will get a chance to redraw districts with some deference to Texas as to that which is not a violation. The parties will fight over the plans. And this will get dragged out. But presumably there will be new maps in place for the 2018 congressional elections, unless the Supreme Court intervenes. I fully expect Texas to try to get the Supreme Court to intervene in the interim. At most these lines would last 2 elections, and then we are back to a new round of redistricting. And this shows what is lost by preclearance. We’ve now had three elections that arguably should never have taken place under these lines.

There’s more, so read the rest. If this case proceeds from here as the post-2003 redistricting litigation did, we will get a bunch of November of 2018 special elections in these Congressional districts, with the possibility of special elections in some number of redrawn State House districts as well. If that doesn’t sound like your idea of fun, then you’re reading the wrong blog. Daily Kos and the Chron have more.

Voter ID hearing postponed

I fear this is a portent of things to come.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Within hours of Donald Trump being sworn in as president Friday, a Corpus Christi federal court postponed a scheduled hearing in the Texas Voter ID case until next month at the request of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Lawyers for the Justice department asked for a delay in the hearing scheduled for Tuesday, citing the change in presidential administrations.

“Because of the change in administration, the Department of Justice also experienced a transition in leadership,” the Justice Department petition states. “The United States requires additional time to brief the new leadership of the Department on this case and the issues to be addressed at that hearing before making any representations to the Court.”

In the past, the agency has asked that hearings in the case be expedited because of the issues involved.

The Corpus Christi court agreed to the delay, postponing the hearing until Feb. 28.

A lawyer for one of the plaintiffs expressed disappointment at the delay.

“This delay for us is not in the interest of resolving a case that has been going on for far too long,” said Leah Adeh, senior counsel with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, which represents one of the plaintiffs. “We all have been expending far too many resources on it, and we really want a hearing to get to a decision that this law needs to be struck down.”

Aden said she did not have any reason to believe the delay was a deliberate move to weaken the case against the law, but said elections are upcoming, and a resolution needs to come quickly.

See here and here for the background. Rick Hasen expects that the Justice Department will now switch sides in litigation like this, and he notes that the incoming deputy assistant attorney general for civil rights in the DOJ has a long history of defending redistricting plans in court. So that’s awesome. As a reminder, this hearing was about the question of whether the voter ID law had discriminatory intent, which would void the law and could put Texas back under preclearance, not that this would mean much for the next four years. The law had already been found to have a discriminatory effect and was thus in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, a ruling that was upheld by the Fifth Circuit and has been appealed to SCOTUS. The fight is far from over and the good guys still have a good shot at it, but it has gotten a lot harder. Politico and the Brennan Center have more.

Motion filed to compel redistricting ruling

From the Lone Star Project:

The major plaintiffs challenging the Texas congressional and State House boundaries filed a joint motion earlier today to compel the three-judge federal district court in San Antonio to finally issue a decision on their claims that the Texas maps adopted in 2011 are discriminatory in violation of the Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution. The motion can be viewed and downloaded here.

The current Texas congressional and State House maps are based on interim plans ordered by the Court in 2012; however, these plans retain many of the features that plaintiffs argue discriminate against Hispanic and African American voters – specifically in Corpus Christi, San Antonio, the border region, Travis County and Dallas/Fort Worth.

The motion lays out plainly that continued delay not only allows ongoing harm to minority voters but could prevent resolution of the case before a new census is taken:

“Plaintiffs make this request out of concern that without resolution of their claims regarding the 2011 redistricting plans for the Texas House of Representatives and Texas Congressional districts, redistricting plans adopted to disadvantage minority voters will not be completely remedied in time for yet another election in 2018. In addition, Plaintiffs fear that any further delay in the entry of judgment on their claims, when considering the remaining issues yet to be litigated and concomitant potential appeals, may be overlapped by the release of a new census in 2021. Thus, further delay may interfere with a final and complete resolution of Plaintiffs’ claims.”

A decision from the court is long overdue. It has been nearly six years since the complaints were initially filed and more than two years since the trial on the merits of the case concluded. Plaintiffs’ detail the degree to which the case has dragged on:

“The current status of this case has remained unchanged since the 2014 trial (now over 28 months) and since this Court’s order denying Plaintiffs a preliminary injunction. The litigants in this cause have had two trials totaling hundreds of hours of testimony and thousands of pages of exhibits and evidence. All pending issues have been briefed extensively. Plaintiffs have survived multiple attempts to dismiss this cause of action. There has been one interlocutory appeal and more contentious appeals loom on the horizon. It has been 2,063 days since the filing of this lawsuit. It has been 1,748 days since this Court ordered its second interim maps. It has been 758 days since final post trial briefing was filed in this cause. In the ensuing elections, more than 19 million votes have been cast in Texas general elections using maps that plaintiffs contend violate the United States Constitution and federal law.”

While expressing their understanding of the complexity of the case and the difficulty of the issues to be resolved, the plaintiffs make clear that they will seek relief in an appellate court if the District Court does not rule on the case by January 17, 2017:

“Plaintiffs therefore respectfully request an entry of judgment no later than January 17, 2017. Should no order be forthcoming from this Court in the near future, private plaintiffs will consider this motion effectively denied. In that event, we will have no alternative but to seek appropriate appellate review and relief directing this Court to take action by a date certain. Cf. Veasey v. Abbott, 136 S. Ct. 1823, 194 L. Ed. 2d 828 (2016) (in which the U.S. Supreme Court directed the Fifth Circuit to resolve the Texas photo ID challenge by a date certain and inviting the plaintiffs to return to the Court for relief if no decision was reached in the Fifth Circuit by the Supreme Court’s deadline).”

As a reminder, the trials over whether the Legislature discriminated against minority voters in redrawing legislative and Congressional districts ended in 2014. Over a year later, the plaintiffs unsuccessfully asked for the court to enjoin the state from using the existing districts in 2016. Back in July, the plaintiffs asked the court to issue a damn ruling already. It is beyond my comprehension why this is taking so long, but here we are. Maybe this motion will finally get something to happen.

UPDATE: The Trib’s Ross Ramsey has some harsh words for the judges.

So now what for voter ID?

It’s hard to say how much prospects have changed now that Donald Trump gets to appoint the ninth Supreme Court justice, but it’s fair to say that thing haven’t improved for the plaintiffs.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Five years ago, Texas passed one of the strictest Voter ID laws in the country. The legal fight began immediately and has continued through this day, with critics of the law getting some assistance from the Obama administration’s Justice Department.

Now, with Republican Donald Trump set to ascend to the Oval Office, the law’s future is more uncertain than ever. Among the questions up in the air: Whom will Trump nominate to the U.S. Supreme Court seat left vacant by Antonin Scalia’s death, and how will a Trump-led Justice Department operate compared to the current administration?

“We’re not going to stand idle when a law is discriminatory,” said Leah Aden, senior counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. “The strategy may be different depending on who is in office, but we’ll fight it regardless of who’s in power.”

[…]

Rick Hasen, an expert in voting law trends and a professor of political science and law at the University of California, Irvine, said Texas has a “very good chance” at reversing the 5th Circuit’s ruling against them if Trump appoints a conservative justice to Scalia’s seat and the court decides to hear Texas’ appeal. It would depend, he said, on how the court reads Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which forbids changes that discriminate against minorities.

“If the court reads Section 2 very narrowly, as I expect a conservative court majority would, that would lead to a reversal of the 5th Circuit’s decision,” Hasen said. “The Supreme Court could say that the 5th Circuit applied the wrong standards to determine whether or not that was discrimination.”

See here for the last update. I’m not going to argue with Prof. Hasen, but I will say that the full Fifth Circuit, which also has a pretty conservative majority, ruled for the plaintiffs, so all hope is not lost. Antonin Scalia was always a vote to uphold voter ID, so the net effect of a Trump appointment is basically neutral. As with many things, it will likely come down to Anthony Kennedy. Having the Justice Department switch sides or at least drop out of the proceedings would be appalling but probably not a difference-maker. It’s not an optimal position to be in, but all hope is not lost.

The much greater challenge now will be the litigation over whether the law had discriminatory intent. That case is in Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos’ court, with briefs by both sides due Friday. The story says she will issue a ruling by January 24. No matter how she rules, the road after that is considerably rocky, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

The other thing to watch for is the Legislature. Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick have been vowing to revisit the voter ID law in the next session, and with the current national landscape I doubt they will feel any restraints when they do. Whatever they pass will wind up in court again, and after that, who knows? I know we already know this, but it’s going to be an ugly four years.

UPDATE: Those briefs have been filed, by the Justice Department and the Attorney General.

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.

Can we PLEASE get some action on redistricting?

From the Lone Star Project:

Earlier today, plaintiffs in the pending Texas congressional and state house redistricting case filed a motion with the presiding three-judge federal panel in San Antonio requesting a conference to discuss further action on the case.  The motion was jointly filed by the Quesada plaintiffs (supported by the Lone Star Project), NAACP, League of United Latin American Citizens and others.

The motion is straight-forward; it lays out that closing arguments on the claims against the 2011 maps originally adopted by the Texas Legislature were concluded on August 26, 2014, nearly two years ago.  The last action taken by the court simply clarified that it would not take any action that might disrupt the current 2016 elections.

Ideally, a conference will be ordered to lay out the timeline for further action on the case.  The motion notes that preparations for the 2018 elections begin in the fall of 2017, implying that action on the case is needed to prevent the possibility of impacting the 2018 election calendar.

In recent weeks, federal courts and judges on three separate occasions have struck down or ordered relief of voter ID laws, confirming that they discriminate against minority citizens in violation of the U.S. Voting Rights Act: A federal judge in Wisconsin ordered relief for Wisconsin’s discriminatory photo ID law; the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals – widely considered the most conservative federal court in the nation – struck down the Texas voter ID law; and, [Friday], the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the North Carolina voter suppression law.

Yes, it’s been two whole years since the trial over the 2011 State House maps came to an end. The trial over the 2011 Congressional maps ended a month later. And here we are, with no further action or even an indication that further action is forthcoming, even though last May we thought there might be. This is what the plaintiffs are asking for. Surely it is not too much to ask to have this matter concluded in time for the 2018 elections, is it? Rick Hasen has more.

Is the Evenwel decision the last word on “one person one vote”?

Maybe not.

With a long-running legal struggle raging over one of the nation’s strictest voter identification laws, Texas was already a prime battleground in a war between conservatives and liberals over voting rights. And on Monday, experts here and elsewhere say, the Supreme Court may have opened a second front.

The court said unanimously that the state could take into account all of its 27 million residents when it carves its territory into voting districts for the State Senate, regardless of whether they can vote in elections. It was a setback for conservatives who want to limit that redistricting population to eligible voters, and a resounding affirmation of the one-person-one-vote principle that has governed most redistricting nationwide for decades.

But it was probably not the final word because the court was silent on whether any other population formula could be used to draw new voting districts. And within hours, advocates on both sides of the issue indicated that Texas or another conservative-dominated state was bound to do just that, probably after the 2020 census triggers a new round of redistricting nationwide.

“This has been an issue that has bubbled up in the courts and in the realm of social science pretty consistently,” said Edward Blum, the president of the Project on Fair Representation, the conservative advocacy group that brought the lawsuit. He said the group would urge political officials to abandon the one-person-one-vote formula for a more limited guideline, something that almost certainly would lead to a second court battle. And the state of Texas, the defendant in the group’s lawsuit, indicated in court filings that it would prefer to have that option.

“The big case isn’t this case, but the next case,” said Daniel P. Tokaji, a professor at Ohio State’s Mortiz College of Law and an authority on elections law.

Maybe yes.

“The court went as far as it possibly could go in casting a pall on the possible idea of challenging this again with an alternative method of counting,” said Janai Nelson, associate director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, on a press call with reporters Monday. She and others pointed to a footnote in Ginsburg’s opinion that suggested she doubted it would even be possible to draw districts the way the challengers were advocating without ignoring other traditional redistricting principles.

“That language very firmly closes the door on the idea that trying to [use] something other than total population is a good idea,” Nina Perales, the vice president of litigation at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said on the same press call.

That’s not to say that Blum and others won’t try, but their argument for why states should think they’d be allowed to do so just got a lot harder with the language in the majority opinion.

“Any state that’s thinking about doing that is going to have to think that there’s a very serious risk that they’re going to get tied up in a lot of litigation,” Sam Bagenstos, a University of Michigan law professor who previously worked in the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, told TPM.

But it’s not just for legal reasons that states have largely stuck to using total population to draw their districts. As Evenwel revealed, there is an absence of data that is a reliable as the census’ total population numbers. And it’s not just Democratic-leaning minority populations that would be negatively affected. Districts with a lot of children, for instance, could also be at risk, a reality Ginsburg also nodded to in her opinion.

“There’s certainly people who will try to make the argument and see if any legislature will bite,” said Michael Li, counsel for the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program, a non-partisan organization that defends voting rights. “States really have chosen to do total population for a lot of good reasons, both the political consequences and that the data is much much better.”

See here for the background. I don’t expect a zealot like Edward Blum to go away – this is his life’s work – but the commentary I read after the decision was handed down suggests it won’t be easy. A state would have to draw a Blum-style map and then defend it in court. If they took that route, the key question would be whether their Blum map would be stopped by the courts while the litigation was ongoing, or would they get to use something like it as has been the case with the 2011/2013 maps? In that case, there’s much to be gained and little to lose, but if not you could wind up spending a ton on litigation and in the worst case having the door permanently slammed on this approach. Check back in 2021 and we’ll see if Texas or some other state takes up the challenge.

Can SCOTUS please intervene in the voter ID case?

The plaintiffs would like to know.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Civil rights groups challenging Texas’ voter identification law are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to block the measure from being used during the 2016 general election.

[…]

The civil rights groups filed a motion Friday with the Supreme Court asking it to vacate a Fifth Circuit ruling that has allowed the voter ID law to continue being implemented unchanged and to reinstate an injunction against the measure. The groups also asked the high court to consider giving the federal court in Corpus Christi limited jurisdiction over the case to issue a new injunction.

Requiring one of seven forms of valid ID, Texas’ voter ID law is considered one of the most stringent in the country. The Legislature passed the measure in 2011, and it has been the subject of litigation ever since.

Following the October 2014 ruling by the federal court in Corpus Christi, the Fifth Circuit allowed the law to stay in effect while the state appealed to avoid disrupting the elections that took place weeks after.

But the civil rights groups argue the Fifth Circuit’s stay has now stretched nearly 18 months and has “injured Texas voters in two more statewide election cycles in 2015 and 2016, and, unless vacated, will very likely cause further injury by allowing enforcement of an invalid state law again during the 2016 Texas general elections.”

Lawyers for the groups asked the Fifth Circuit last week to reverse its decision allowing the law to stay in effect, but the court said it would not consider that motion until it rehears the case in the last week of May.

The civil rights groups say the Fifth Circuit’s schedule is likely to prevent them from getting a ruling in time for the 2016 elections. Texas starts its election preparations in June, just days after the full appeals court will revisit the case.

See here for the background, and here for a copy of the application to vacate the Fifth Circuit ruling. Bear in mind that the federal district court judge put a stay on the law in her 2014 ruling, but on appeal the Fifth Circuit lifted the stay, with the Supreme Court concurring, on the grounds that it was too close to the election to change all the procedures that had been put in place to inform people about voter ID. Whatever you think of that ruling, there’s plenty of time to change things now, unless of course the Fifth Circuit runs out the clock, which some people think was their intent. I presume a 4-4 ruling means that the stay will not be reinstated, so the plaintiffs will need to hope for the good Anthony Kennedy to show up. We’ll see how it goes. SCOTUSBlog, The Hill, and NBC News have more.

Who cares about Bob McNair?

Another bad decision.

HoustonUnites

Houston Texans owner Bob McNair donated $10,000 this week to opponents of the city’s embattled equal rights ordinance, entering the political fray over the law headed to voters in November.

McNair, a frequent GOP donor, mailed the $10,000 check to opponents earlier this week, according to Campaign for Houston spokesman Jared Woodfill. He said the donation “was very exciting for us.”

Critics of the law, largely Christian conservatives, object to the non-discrimination protections it extends to gay and transgender residents — the law also lists 13 other protected groups. Supporters of the ordinance, including Mayor Annise Parker, have warned that repealing the law could damage the city’s economy and could jeopardize high-profile events such as Houston’s 2017 Super Bowl.

Woodfill pushed back on that notion Wednesday.

“The HERO supporters have tried to scare people into believing that we would lose the Super Bowl,” Woodfill said. “Obviously, if there were any truth behind that, Bob McNair wouldn’t’ be donating to the folks that are opposed to the ordinance.”

Here’s the longer version of the story. As Campos notes, there is something to that. I’ve always been skeptical about claims we could lose the Super Bowl if HERO is voted down for the simple reason that logistically, it would be very hard to do and would inconvenience a lot of people. The NFL doesn’t want to do that unless it absolutely has to, and I don’t think there would be enough of a national outcry to make that happen. What I do expect is that a defeat for HERO would jeopardize our chances of landing other big events, sporting and otherwise, and would likely cause some planners of events that are already on the calendar here, at the George R. Brown and big hotels, to reconsider and find alternate options.

So Woodfill gets a symbolic trophy, for whatever good it does him. It would be nice if this story went national, as a lot of other HERO-related news has done, as it might put a little heat on McNair and generally serve as bad publicity for him and his team. The Texans aren’t exactly a revered franchise outside of Houston, so a little ridicule there could go a long way. In the meantime, this story appeared in the paper the same day that this full-page ad ran in the local section:

HoustonBusinessLeadersEndorseHERO

For those who have been trying to claim that HERO is only of concern to the LGBT community, note the presence there of the NAACP, the Greater Houston Black Chamber, the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and among the individuals, the President of the Houston Urban League, Judson Robinson III. There was also this in my feeds from yesterday:

As the Texas director of AARP, a nonpartisan, nonprofit advocacy organization for all persons age 50 and older, I am proud that this Association — with 38 million members, including more than 2.2 million in Texas — believes firmly in the fundamental right of all people to be free from discrimination.

Approval of HERO by voters would help ensure that Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city, provides its residents and visitors with an environment free of discrimination based on sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, familial status, marital status, religion, disability, sexual orientation, genetic information, gender identity, or pregnancy.

There are lots of people talking about why HERO matters, to them and to the city. The Houston Area Women’s Center has been heavily involved to help debunk the dangerous and pernicious falsehoods that liars like Jared Woodfill have been spreading, now with the assistance of a fool like Bob McNair. The Press has more.

Third lawsuit filed against the voter ID law

The more, the merrier.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Two groups representing minority voters and officeholders sued to block the state’s new Voter ID law, which will be used for the first time in a statewide Texas election this November — barring intervention by a court.

The new law requires voters to show an approved photo identification card when they vote. Its requirements “have a discriminatory effect … and were enacted with a racially discriminatory purpose,” according to the lawsuit filed against the state by the Texas State Conference of NAACP Branches and the Texas House’s Mexican American Legislative Caucus.

[…]

In their suit, the groups said the new law “disproportionately prevent Latino and African-American citizens in Texas from voting in person and, in the totality of the circumstances, deny Latino and African American citizens an equal opportunity to participate in the political process and were enacted for that purpose.”

The suit was filed in federal court in Corpus Christi, where two similar cases are set for hearings later this month: one filed in June by a group including U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, and another by the U.S. Department of Justice, filed in August. Dallas County joined the Veasey lawsuit last month.

A copy of the suit is here, a scorecard of who’s suing for what is here, and a press statement from MALC is beneath the fold. I presume all these lawsuits will eventually be joined – a motion to do exactly that has already been filed – but the more resources going into fighting this terrible law, the better. Now we just need someone to file for a TRO to keep it from being enforced before the litigation concludes. I’m hoping that happens before November 5.

(more…)

DOJ files suit against Texas’ voter ID law and redistricting maps

Excellent.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The U.S. Department of Justice announced on Thursday that it will again seek to dismantle Texas’ voter ID law, this time with a lawsuit alleging the measure violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. The department also said on Thursday that it will seek to have Texas’ redistricting maps declared unconstitutional.

Section 2 of the 1965 act prohibits voting laws that discriminate based on race, color or membership in a minority group. Thursday’s decision by the U.S. Department of Justice comes after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June that allowed implementation of the state law that requires voters to furnish a valid photo ID before casting a ballot. Prior to that ruling, the department and, separately, a three-judge panel of federal judges in Washington, had struck down the 2011 state law after denying Texas’ request for preclearance. The high court’s ruling eliminated the preclearance requirement.

“Today’s action marks another step forward in the Justice Department’s continuing effort to protect the voting rights of all eligible Americans,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement about the voter ID provision. “We will not allow the Supreme Court’s recent decision to be interpreted as open season for states to pursue measures that suppress voting rights.”

The DOJ also said that it will seek “declaration that Texas’s 2011 redistricting plans for the U.S. Congress and the Texas State House of Representatives were adopted with the purpose of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority group.” That, too, is in violation of Section 2 and the 14th and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, the department alleges.

[…]

The DOJ said it would file suit against the state of Texas, the Texas secretary of state and the Texas Department of Public Safety. The Texas DPS is the agency charged with issuing state-issued IDs or driver’s licenses.

The secretary of state’s office has not received a copy of the lawsuit and will review it when it is received, said Alicia Pierce, the agency’s spokeswoman.

[…]

In its statement, the DOJ added that it would ask the court to subject the state to new preclearance requirements under Section 3 of the act.

A copy of the statement is here, a copy of the lawsuit is here, and a roundup of reactions, which go about as you’d expect them to, is here and here. The NAACP is also seeking to join in the DOJ suit over voter ID. Given the recent brouhaha in Edinburg, where city council elections are about to be held, it would be nice if the DOJ could secure an injunction against the voter ID law, to keep things as they were before. We’ll see about that. In the meantime, buckle your seatbelts, it’s going to get bumpy from here. SCOTUSBlog, which has a typically detailed description of the two lawsuits, Daily Kos, Texas Politics, Ari Berman, Molly Redden, Rick Hasen, who wonders about preliminary injunctive relief, BOR, and Trail Blazers have more, while TPM wonders if North Carolina will be next.

UPDATE: Some background information on the case from Texas Redistricting, which summarizes what the DOJ is pursuing. The original lawsuit against the voter ID law has now been amended with extra complaints.

Redistricting plaintiffs go for Section 3

It’s a brand new world out there.

Minority-rights groups are charting “new territory” in the fight against Texas’ redistricting plan, using a provision of the Voting Rights Act that cites discriminatory intent as part of an effort to maintain federal oversight of the state’s congressional maps.

The NAACP and the League of United Latin American Citizens filed a motion here Tuesday, asking that Texas again be placed under federal requirements for changes made to voting maps, per Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act.

State authorities labeled the move a “desperate effort” following recent Supreme Court decisions that strike down regulatory provisions of the 1965 act.

Luis Vera, a LULAC lawyer in San Antonio, said that because Section 3 was untouched by the court, it allows any state to be subject to federal preclearance if discriminatory intent or a demonstrated effort to disenfranchise is found in new voting laws or maps.

Last August, a D.C. court panel found Texas intentionally discriminated against minorities when it adopted new redistricting maps.

The ruling rejected the state’s claim that the changes did not require Justice Department preclearance approval.

The D.C. court ruling was vacated last month, following the Supreme Court’s decision.

Vera said that while the Supreme Court ruling was a huge blow, consideration of Section 3 by the court would give hope of a remedy to groups.

“We are still in the game,” he said.

Vera conceded that the claim of discrimination must now be proved by the groups filing the motion, whereas the state previously had to prove it did not discriminate when it changed laws or maps.

“In the past, the burden was on the state. Now, the burden is on us,” Vera said. “The good thing for us is that the D.C. court already found discriminatory intent.”

As noted, there are already Section 3 claims before the San Antonio court. The burden may be higher for the plaintiffs now, but Lord knows there’s no shortage of evidence – correct me if I’m wrong here, but I believe the state of Texas has never successfully defended any of its decennial redistricting efforts. There’s definitely reason for hope here, and that’s before we get into the Section 2 claims that are also being pressed.

Needless to say, Texas Redistricting has been all over this:

San Antonio court starts process for deciding if Texas should preclear maps under section 3 of Voting Rights Act, from July 1.

Section 3 and the 2013 Texas maps: How this might work, also from July 1.

Bail-in claim for Texas under section 3 also filed in D.C. court, from July 3. Note that the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus and Texas Latino Redistricting Task Force are not part of the new motion before the DC court, though they could join later if they want to, or they could file their own separate motions.

Q&A on the new section 3 claim about Texas redistricting, also from July 3. The answer to pretty much every question you might ask right now is “it’s unclear at this time” because this is all entirely new legal territory.

Press round up: Maneuvering on Texas redistricting & voter ID, from July 8. Be sure also to read this Election Law Blog post about how Section 3 could be an “easy, but powerful” way to amend the Voting Rights Act.

On Friday, a whole bunch more complaints were filed with the San Antonio court, regarding the maps that were passed in the special session, and including Section 3 claims. The state has till the 19th to respond. We’ll see how it goes from here.

Latinos and marriage equality

You’ve probably seen some coverage by now of how African American views of marriage equality have shifted in its favor in the wake of President Obama’s announcement that he now supports it. But what about Latinos and their views?

On the right side of history

The recent news coverage and analysis of this issue has focused almost exclusively on comparing the marriage views of African Americans with whites, with an occasional nod to a broader group of “people of color.” This analysis inadvertently masks the views of Latinos, the nation’s largest and fastest-growing minority group. In fact, among the media’s coverage of new polls conducted and released following President Obama’s support of marriage equality, very few (if any) broke out the results based on Latino or Hispanic ethnicity.

Despite the absence of media coverage on Latinos and marriage equality, numerous surveys tell us that Latinos are by and large supportive of laws that extend the rights and responsibilities of marriage to same-sex couples. A 2011 survey of Latinos found that even then 54 percent supported full marriage equality, compared to about 53 percent of the general public at the time. This same survey found that Latinos who identify as Catholic support marriage equality at a slightly higher rate of 57 percent. Like the rest of the U.S. population, support for marriage equality was higher among Hispanic women than Hispanic men, and was lower for those Latinos who identified as members of the Republican Party.

Further, a 2010 survey by the Associated Press and Univision found stark generational divides among Latinos, just as in the general population. Specifically, younger-generation Latinos voice much higher support for marriage equality than older Latinos do.

But overall Latino support for equality extends far beyond marriage. One case in point: Latinos are very supportive of laws that protect against other forms of antigay* discrimination (note that these surveys didn’t ask questions specific to transgender rights). The aforementioned 2011 survey found that:

  • Eighty-six percent of Latinos support workplace discrimination laws that protect gay people
  • Eighty-six percent support housing discrimination laws that protect gay people
  • Eighty-three percent support hate crimes laws that protect gay people
  • Eighty-three percent support equal health care and pension benefits for same-sex couples
  • Seventy-eight percent support open military service

Further, the survey found that 67 percent of Latinos believe that gay people face either some or a lot of discrimination in the United States. At the same time, 65 percent of Latinos said that Hispanics themselves face similar rates of discrimination; 55 percent said the same for African Americans; and 47 percent for women. Also, 65 percent of Latinos said that gay people face some or a lot of discrimination from the Hispanic population itself—52 percent said that African Americans face similar levels of discrimination from the Latino population, and 48 percent said women did as well.

In addition to obscuring Latino support for marriage equality, the recent media focus on African Americans and marriage equality also ignores the fact that African Americans believe gay people face high rates of discrimination overall in America. In fact, African Americans largely understand that gay Americans face pervasive discrimination and are strongly supportive of laws and policies to end that discrimination—and they were supportive even when their opposition to marriage equality was significantly high.

A 2009 report and related polling from the Arcus Foundation, for example, found that 67 percent of African Americans opposed marriage equality at that time. But the same survey and polls found that 76 percent of African Americans thought that gay people overall face either a lot or some discrimination in America. Further:

  • Eighty-five percent of African Americans polled said that hate crimes are a problem for gay people
  • Eighty-three percent said school bullying is a problem for gay youth
  • Seventy-four percent said access to health care and pension benefits is a problem for same-sex couples
  • Seventy-four percent said job discrimination is a problem for gay employees and job seekers
  • Sixty-nine percent said housing discrimination is a problem for the gay population

If that’s not enough for you, the National Council of La Raza has endorsed marriage equality as well.

Eric Rodriguez, vice president of public policy for the National Council of La Raza, confirmed to the Blade that the vote took place on June 9 during a previously scheduled board meeting. NCLR did not provide a copy of the resolution, but Rodriguez stressed that there was little opposition to it.

“There was discussion for that period of time, but everyone really strongly that supporting what we had already put out there in terms of our statement was the right thing to do,” he said.

Former NCLR Board Chair Danny Ortega, a Phoenix lawyer whose term ended after the vote, provided broad details of the conversations that he said took place among the 25 board members before the vote.

“We had a discussion about this and clearly some people had more questions than others, but at the end of the discussion it was unanimous,” he said.

The resolution passed less than a month after the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Persons’ Board of Directors endorsed marriage rights for same-sex couples.

[…]

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund President Thomas A. Saenz has backed same-sex marriage. His organization has not only represented people with HIV in discrimination cases, but filed amicus briefs in support of lawsuits that challenge California’s Proposition 8 and other states’ prohibitions on nuptials for gays and lesbians.

The Texas chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens earlier this month also passed a same-sex marriage resolution during their annual convention. LULAC National President Margaret Moran joined Murguía, Saenz and other civil rights leaders who applauded Obama’s public support of nuptials for gays and lesbians.

Remember when marriage equality was going to be the wedge that fractured the Democratic coalition? So much for that. Sure, there is at least one prominent African American who has been unhappy with the President’s announcement, but I rather doubt that the bottom feeders at NOM will be adopting him as a spokesperson. American Progress link via NewsTaco, Blade link via Runnin’ Scared. Freedom to Marry has more.

While we wait for another deal, if there is one

Michael Li reminds us what comes next.

Waiting for a map like you, to come into my life

The San Antonio court has scheduled a hearing on interim maps and the election schedule for next Wednesday, February 15, with briefs on a broad range of issues due this Friday.

That gives the parties a week to continue talking, and it is possible further consensus could be reached. If there isn’t a consensus, the court will begin the process of drawing interim maps.

The state and the Republican Party of Texas have said that they think matters are far along enough that the court should be able to complete maps by February 20 and allow a primary to go forward on April 10 or April 17. However, there are some legal and logistical issues that still might prevent that (more here).

The RPT also has suggested April 24 as a primary date but, at the last hearing, there was some concern that day would prove to be unworkable because of the need to prepare for early voting in municipal and school board elections, which begins the following week.

If April doesn’t work, the most viable dates after that are May 29 and June 26.

You should of course be reading Texas Redistricting, but in case you’re not for some reason, here’s some additional reactions to the “deal”, from Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, the NAACP, MALC, and the Republican Party, which is clearly trying to sell it to its members. Here also are the post-trial briefs from the preclearance trial, for which we’re all waiting on a ruling.

Elsewhere on the interwebs, Politico reports that some of Rep. Henry Cuellar’s colleagues aren’t too happy with him for his endorsement of the Abbott “deal”.

Democrats are stunned that Cuellar would negotiate with Republicans, let alone agree to a map they argue would cost the party several seats and rob minorities of the chance to maximize their gains in the House of Representatives.

“He’s a deplorable, dishonest person. He’s proven it time and time again in redistricting,” said Matt Angle, founder of the Lone Star Project, a group aimed at supporting Democratic candidates in Texas. “I know it sounds over the top, but it’s true.”

The compromise map that Abbott and Cuellar agreed to is very similar to one that the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature approved last year, which would have positioned Democrats to win only 11 of the state’s 36 congressional seats.

Democrats had objected to the Legislature-drawn map, arguing in federal court that it doesn’t sufficiently recognize the state’s booming minority population. Democrats want an interim plan that more closely resembles one drawn by a San Antonio-based court that would have made it likely for the party to hold 13 of the 36 seats. The Supreme Court struck down the interim plan last month.

Let me interrupt here to say that I don’t know what numbers Politico is going by. By my count, the legislatively-drawn map, was 26-10 GOP, with CD23 being lean GOP and CD14 being potentially competitive, while the Abbott map was likely to have at least 11 Dem seats, with CD23 being tossup/lean Dem, and CD14 being lean GOP, though that may be more the influence of the declared candidate than the map itself. If all you knew were the straight R and D numbers, it’s better than what the Dems started with, albeit not quite as good as what they almost had. Obviously, there’s more to it than that, and I don’t care for this deal because I think it’s the low end of what is possible, but it’s not the worst thing in the world.

It hasn’t been unusual for Democrats to partner with Republicans on redistricting. With the GOP controlling much of line-drawing this go-around, Democrats across the country have forged alliances with Republicans to ensure they get favorable treatment in the redistricting process, which can make or break a member’s political fortunes.

Mexican American Legislative Caucus Chairman Trey Martinez Fischer called Cuellar’s agreement an effort by the congressman to finalize a rock-solid, South Central Texas-based district for himself to run in. But he argued it would have little impact on the final lines.

“I take Henry’s actions at face value,” said Fischer, who called Cuellar a friend. “The consequences of this agreement really don’t go beyond the confines of his district.”

Cuellar disputed the idea that he’s looking out for himself at others’ expense, pointing out that he’s been well-positioned to win reelection in each of the proposed maps. He said he felt no need to promote one plan over another to get a leg up.

Rather, he said he aimed to advance a plan that would help solidify a set of minority-held seats. On Monday, his office released a lengthy statement detailing how the plan would advance the interests of Hispanic and black candidates seeking House seats.

“To say I did this for my own interests is absolutely crazy,” Cuellar told POLITICO. “This has nothing to do with self-promotion. Anyone who says anything else is being dishonest with you.”

Rep. Cuellar has filed an advisory with the court, urging it to adopt the Abbott map. For what it’s worth, Smokey Joe Barton filed his own advisory saying that he “strongly objects to this proposed settlement”. So the bipartisanship goes both ways.

Anyway. BOR speculates why Abbott is pushing for a deal. I think there’s a lot of pressure on him, but it’s not clear to me that it’s all or even primarily in one direction. At the end of the day, redistricting is always more multidimensional than just R versus D. Prof. Murray provides some historical context to what’s going on. Finally, I got a request after the previous numbers post to include results from the 2008 Court of Criminal Appeals race for Position 3, in which Susan Strawn was the Democratic candidate. As this post is long enough already, I’ve put those numbers, which include a couple of State Rep districts I didn’t list before, beneath the fold.

UPDATE: Stace has a guest post from Joe Cardenas of Texas LULAC on why the Texas Latino Redistricting Task Force likes the Abbott maps.

(more…)

Redistricting settlement deal looking unlikely

Late last week we heard about the possibility of a settlement agreement in the San Antonio redistricting case that would allow for the creation of interim maps in time to keep the April 3 primary date. The court gave this Friday as a drop dead date for getting that done. As of today, it’s looking like that’s not going to happen.

Deal or no deal?

There were rumors floating around all weekend that there could be a deal struck as early as today, but with all parties heading to DC to catch closing arguments in the preclearance hearing tomorrow, Jan. 31, that seems unlikely. The Mexican American Legislative Caucus told the Chronicle this morning that a deal is not imminent, even though they are all working towards some kind of agreement.

MALC (and particularly chair Rep. Trez Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio) and MALDEF are clearly most interested in creating the largest number possible of Hispanic opportunity districts. However, that could clash severely with both the interests of the other plaintiffs (many of whom are looking for more Democratic opportunity seats) and the historic coalition between African-American and Hispanic groups. Throughout this process, LULAC and the NAACP have been very much on the same page, and have not always been in complete agreement with MALC and MALDEF.

It would not be too surprising if MALDEF backed something closer to the legislature’s maps than the other plaintiffs would be comfortable with: After all, they were fine with a map that would split Travis County four ways and draw Congressman Lloyd Doggett into a Democratic primary with San Antonio’s Rep. Juan Castro.

[…]

The time crunch means the plaintiffs can dangle the equal representation terms of Section Two of the Voting Rights Act over the assembled heads of Attorney General Greg Abbott’s team. However, the DC District Court is expected to rule this week on whether the legislature’s maps violate the preclearance terms of Section Five of the VRA. There are undoubtedly voices in the room suggesting that the plaintiffs would be in a much stronger negotiating position – and that the state would have little legal wiggle room – if they just wait a couple more days.

Most importantly, as one source close to the negotiations put it, all the parties should be more concerned about ensuring true representation for all Texans that holding on to the arbitrary April 3 primary date.

ADDENDUM: Just got an email from LULAC attorney Luis Roberto Vera, Jr. who confirmed that his clients (who are still pushing for coalition districts) are still pushing to wait for the DC ruling, and that was the stated position of all plaintiffs to the San Antonio panel before this weekend. “As to negotiations,” he wrote, “they have totally broken down as of now. I am sure they will resume but I doubt an agreement if at all by this Monday so I don’t expect an April 3rd election.”

The Statesman reports that the AG has been trying to find a wedge in the plaintiffs’ unity.

Representatives for other plaintiff groups also didn’t want to speak publicly because of the delicate nature of the ongoing negotiations. But there has been some chatter among the groups that lawyers for the Mexican American Legislative Caucus and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, two of the main plaintiffs driving the litigation, have been talking to the state without other groups.

Though he didn’t name any groups in particular, Vera said some of the state’s lawyers were offering some plaintiffs’ lawyers deals that would benefit Latino groups but might be seen as detrimental to African American plaintiffs.

Vera said a major obstacle is that the state isn’t involving all parties in the negotiations. Gary Bledsoe, president of the Texas NAACP, which is among the plaintiffs, said the state was mainly negotiating with MALDEF and the Mexican American Legislative Caucus.

Bledsoe said unanimous agreement among the nine isn’t required for the court to accept a deal. He said he believes that there is a “reasonable chance” the state could work out a deal with two or three of the groups but that the odds of getting total consensus are longer.

State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, a San Antonio Democrat and chairman of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, said his organization had been in touch with lawyers from Abbott’s office and gave them a strict set of parameters that would need to be met before they could agree to anything.

The Express News adds on.

Martinez Fischer said he thought the attorney general’s office was trying to work with as many plaintiffs groups as possible.

“Their intention is to try and work something out,” a stance he called “encouraging.”

But thus far, he said, MALC hasn’t been satisfied with what the state has offered. He declined to offer specifics.

Even if an agreement is reached, it could still be challenged.

An attorney for U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Ennis, argued Friday before the three-judge panel in San Antonio that the attorney general’s office doesn’t have the authority to remake maps approved by the Legislature and that any maps that were redrawn would also need to be approved, or “precleared,” by the Justice Department.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott “would be agreeing to something that the Legislature did, so it would become new state policy,” attorney Trey Trainor said. “Well, the state doesn’t have the ability to implement change of voting policy without preclearance.”

Texas must get approval for new maps from the Justice Department under the Voting Rights Act because of the state’s history of discrimination.

Vera thinks that the plaintiffs should wait on the D.C. panel to rule rather than settle with Abbott’s office.

“There was so much evidence of racial discrimination,” he said. “Texas is going to get nailed, and nailed hard.”

If that really is the case, then there’s little incentive for the plaintiffs to settle. The primary date was more of an issue for Republicans, who want to have a say in their Presidential race and whose financial exposure for the state conventions is greater. And the previous talk about settlements, which sounded very favorable from a Democratic perspective, have apparently ruffled some feathers on that side of the aisle. Michael Li quotes from a post by RPT Chair Steve Munisteri, whose backside is clearly seeking some concealment:

It is important to note, that the talks between the Democratic and Republican parties deal solely with the deadlines and scheduling of the primary election, not with the boundaries of state legislative or Congressional districts. Only the Attorney General’s office’s attorneys are involved in those discussions. Thus, the email chains that have gone out accusing the Republican Party of Texas of trying to save a convention deposit in exchange for district lines, are blatantly false.

Emphasis mine. Translation: Don’t blame me if the pooch gets screwed.

Meanwhile, closing arguments were made in the DC preclearance trial, and from the sound of it the plaintiffs have good reason to be hopeful.

The three-judge panel frequently interrupted the state’s closing presentation on Tuesday, probed some of its most basic positions and questioned its interpretation of some evidence.

Lawyers for Texas argued throughout the trial that the GOP-controlled Legislature created oddly shaped districts and used gerrymandering techniques to protect Republican incumbents–not to discriminate against racial minorities. Political gerrymandering is legal, if not pretty, they said.

Judge Rosemary Collyer questioned whether politics could excuse the fracturing of minority communities, who fueled 89 percent of Texas’ population growth in the last decade and helped the state gain four new seats in Congress.

“It’s really hard to explain that,” she said, “other than on the basis of reducing the effectiveness of the minority vote, whether black or Latino.”

She pointed to the Legislature’s plans for congressional seats in the Dallas-Forth Worth area. District boundaries carve up much of the urban center–largely minority and Democratic–and disperses it into GOP-friendly districts in the suburbs.

Judge Beryl Howell said the state’s position treats minority populations as “collateral damage,” and Judge Thomas Griffith asked whether law required the Legislature to take the racial impact of its plans into consideration, even if the primary motive was political.

The state’s attorneys, who ended up spending much of their final statement answering questions, stuck to their position.

That doesn’t necessarily mean anything, but it’s often a sign of how the judges are thinking. If my reading is correct, that would be one reason why the state was interested in settling. By the same token, of course, that would be a disincentive for the plaintiffs to cut a deal. At this point, I’d say we’re waiting for the DC court to rule before anything else happens. We’ll know soon enough, though whether it’s soon enough to keep an April primary is question #1 and highly dependent on how soon we know. Campos has more.

More map feedback

In addition to AG Abbott’s pitiful whining, a few other parties have been heard from regarding the interim legislative map. First, Speaker Joe Straus performs his duty as a Republican. Here’s his statement:

“As the panel of three federal judges prepares to issue its ruling on district lines for the Texas House of Representatives, I hope that the judges will take into account the will of the people of Texas as expressed by their elected representatives.

“I, along with many Members of the House, have strong concerns that the initial map released by the court last week goes much further than is necessary to correct any perceived legal defects in the recently-adopted redistricting plan.

“Members of the Texas House approved a redistricting plan that is fair and that the State’s lawyers have advised us is legal. Even if the panel of judges concludes that the new lines violate federal law in some respects, their role should be limited to making as few revisions as possible to cure those perceived defects, instead of making wholesale changes to the duly elected map.

“If the final order of the court is not substantially closer to the plan we passed, I will urge the Attorney General to seek an immediate stay from the U.S. Supreme Court so that several issues under the Voting Rights Act can be clarified before the federal judges impose their new map on Texas voters for the 2012 elections.”

Blah blah blah mean ol’ Republican-appointed activist judges…Clearly we need some other activist judges to step in and correct the error made by some other activist judges who did something we don’t like. Even if that means moving back the primaries, which wouldn’t be disruptive at all. The irony of this is that the court-drawn map is likely to be friendlier to Straus’ re-election as Speaker than the one the Lege drew. But certain ritualistic obligations must be met.

Meanwhile, Burka notes that various Republican legislators are none too happy with Abbott’s office for their role in pushing preclearance to the DC court and for losing the battle to get summary judgment. He also has some whining from doomed Republican HD144 incumbent Ken Legler. In that same post, he suggests that there may be some discontent on the D side as well:

Mike Hailey’s Capitol Inside reports that African-American members and support groups are not happy with the court-drawn maps either, which involve significant changes to districts that break up communities of interest.

African-Americans who’ve been involved in the court fight over redistricting that Democrats and minority groups have been waging contend that the House map that a pair of federal judges in San Antonio proposed last week is inferior from their perspective to the plan that the Republican-controlled Legislature approved earlier this year.

This has the potential to turn into a nasty fight–not just R’s against D’s, but also blacks against browns. Hispanics are the clear winners to this point, and African Americans (and, of course, anglo Republicans) saw their communities of interest disrupted for no obvious Voting Rights Act purpose. I don’t see how this often-arbitrary map can withstand a trial on the merits.

That sounds pretty bad, until you read the brief that was filed by the NAACP-Jefferson plaintiff-intervenors. They ask for a grand total of 42 precincts (I counted) to be interchanged in Dallas and Harris Counties, mostly between neighboring African-American districts – 23 of the 42 precincts in all. Seventeen precincts, all in Harris County, would be swapped between African-American and Latino districts (this includes HD137, which has a Latino voting majority if not a Latino representative) and exactly two precincts between a Democratic district and a Republican district (HDs 146 and 134). In other words, these changes are pretty darned unlikely to affect the partisan balance that might result from Plan H298. In addition, there’s this footnote on page 3:

We understand that the State has mis-used the constructive comment of the NAACP-Jefferson plaintiff-intervenors in unwarranted attacks on the Court’s efforts. We wish to disassociate ourselves from such criticism. While we regard these changes as exceedingly important, indeed essential, to a racially fair redistricting plan, we understand the virtual inevitability of unintended circumstances, especially in such a short time period.

In other words, they may both be asking for changes, but they have very different reasons for doing so. I fully expect that there will be some changes to the interim map, but I do not expect them to be more than tweaks like what the NAACP-Jefferson plaintiff-intervenors have offered. You’ve got to figure we’ll know soon enough. For that matter, you’ve got to figure there’s a Congressional map in there somewhere. I don’t mean to rush you, Your Honors, but, um, tick tock.

UPDATE: Michael Li explains what must happen for the Supreme Court to step in and put a halt to the implementation of the interim maps.

The interim plans

Monday was the deadline for parties in the redistricting lawsuit being heard in San Antonio to file interim plans for the court to consider in the event preclearance is not granted in time for candidate filing. Texas Redistricting summarizes the various plans that were presented to the court:

The Plaintiffs’ Interim Plans

All of the plaintiffs’ plans have substantial similarities, though they differ in the details.

All would add a new Hispanic opportunity district in North Texas, and all, in some way, would restore Lloyd Doggett’s congressional seat (CD-25)- most by creating a ‘tri-ethnic’ coalition seat strongly anchored, if not wholly contained, in Travis County. All also would make adjustments to CD-23- currently represented by freshman Republican, Quico Canseco- to improve the district’s ability the elect the “Hispanic candidate of choice.”

However, there also are divergences.

Proposals submitted separately by MALC and State Senator Wendy Davis and State Representative Marc Veasey would create an additional African-American opportunity district in the DFW Metroplex (CD-35 in both Plan C211 and Plans C202 and C204).

By contrast, the Texas Latino Redistricting Task Force and Travis County plaintiffs would forgo that seat and, instead, create a new Hispanic opportunity seat in Harris County (CD-36 in the Task Force’s Plan C213 and CD-36 in the Travis County plaintiffs’ Plan C166).

[…]

The State of Texas’ position

In its papers, the State of Texas, not surprisingly, takes the position that the panel should simply adopt the legislatively passed maps as the interim maps, arguing that the “intent of the State of Texas … is due great deference when the judiciary intercedes in the province of the legislative branch.”

[…]

Congressman Canseco

Freshman Republican Congressman Quico Canseco (CD-23) also has submitted two interim congressional map proposals (Plan C209 and Plan C212).

During trial on the claims before the San Antonio court, the court expressed a number of concerns about changes to CD-23 under the state’s map.

In response to concerns raised by the court at trial, both these maps would create a new Hispanic opportunity district in North Texas that is substantially identical to the district included in Congressman Lamar Smith’s proposal to the Texas Legislature in April 2011.

You can see links to all of the briefs that were filed at that post, and you can see the all of plan numbers here. All proposed interim maps can be found at http://gis1.tlc.state.tx.us. To view a map, click on ‘select plans’ and then ‘base plan.’ The congressional and state house plans are filed under Exhibits in Perez v. Perry, and state senate plans can be found under Exhibits in Davis v. Perry. You can zoom in on these maps to see street-level detail, which I needed to do during the legislative process to see which district my house was being moved to. The parties have until Monday the 24th to respond to any plan they object to – one presumes the plaintiffs have already made their feelings clear about the legislative maps, but I imagine they might reiterate those feelings, just in case – and on Wednesday, November 2 there will be a hearing at which the plans get formally presented. This Statesman story and Randy Bear have more, and an explanation of State Sen. Wendy Davis’ proposed Senate map is here.

DOJ says redistricting plans purposely discriminated

Game on.

The Justice Department said late Friday that based on their preliminary investigation, a congressional redistricting map signed into law by Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry appears to have been “adopted, at least in part, for the purpose of diminishing the ability of citizens of the United States, on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority group, to elect their preferred candidates of choice to Congress.”

DOJ’s Civil Rights Division is specifically contesting the changes made to Texas Districts 23 and 27, which they say would not provide Hispanic citizens with the ability to elect candidates of their choice.

They say they need more information on the congressional plan to determine what the purpose of the redistricting plan was for sure. But the federal agency came out stronger against the state House of Representatives plan, which they flat out said “violates Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act in that it was adopted, at least in part, for the purpose of diminishing the ability of citizens of the United States, on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority group, to elect their preferred candidates of choice to the Texas House of Representatives.”

The State House districts that DOJ singled out were 33, 35, 41, 117, and 149. The other intervenors in the case – State Sen. Wendy Davis and State Rep. Marc Veasey; MALC; Greg Gonzales (I don’t know who that is); the Texas Legislative Black Caucus; the Texas Latino Redistricting Task Force; and the Texas State Conference of NAACP Branches – agreed with DOJ about all of these districts and added quite a few more of their own, with some detailed objections in Dallas, Tarrant, and Harris Counties, among others. A copy of the DOJ doc is here, and I recommend you read it – it’s not very long, and isn’t particularly legalistic. If nothing else, see why the state of Texas will likely never hire Dr. John Alford as an expert witness again, at least not while the Republicans are still in charge. Oral arguments are scheduled for November 2 on the state’s motion for summary judgment.

In related news, the Justice Department also had some questions about the voter ID law.

In a Friday letter officials wrote that they need to know more about how the state would alert voters to the changes to the law.

Federal officials also want a detailed description of when and where the state will make free identification certificates available, as well as specifics on how they will educated the public about when such certificates will be available.

Texas officials said that 605,576 residents do not have a Texas drivers license or photo ID card. DOJ wants to know how many of those residents without IDs have Spanish surnames.

You can read the response letter for the specifics. In this case, if the state answers the questions to DOJ’s satisfaction, preclearance will be granted. Postcards adds on:

State Rep. Patricia Harless, R-Spring, the House sponsor of the Voter ID measure, said she was not surprised with the Justice Department’s action.

“I think the questions they are asking are reasonable,” Harless said.

Harless added that the Texas Secretary of State’s office should be able to respond relatively quickly.

Once the Justice Department gets the response, it’ll have 60 days to review it — plenty of time before the March primary.

[…]

If the Justice Department denies pre-clearance, the state probably would sue the department and ask the court to overturn the denial, leading to a lengthy court case.

And if the department approves the measure, appeals from opponents likely would be filed.

In other words, expect litigation no matter what happens next. The Trib has more.

More redistricting plaintiffs

Here’s an update to the scorecard, for those of you hoping to keep track of the players.

The Texas Democratic Party officially entered the court fight over Republican-dominated redistricting maps Wednesday.

The new claims by the state Democratic Party came a day after the NAACP and other leading African American groups joined three redistricting lawsuits that already have been filed in San Antonio federal court.

“Allowing these partisan redistricting plans to take effect would violate the voting rights of every Texas voter who is not a partisan Republican,” said Chad Dunn, general counsel of the Texas Democratic Party.

I can’t tell if that is related to this action by State Rep. Marc Veasey and State Sen. Wendy Davis or if they are separate.

Davis and Veasey filed a motion in federal court [Friday] morning aiming to intervene in the state’s effort to get four redistricting maps approved in time for the 2012 elections.

Texas is among the states that must still get pre-clearance of redistricting plans under the federal Voting Rights Act. Earlier this week, the Texas Attorney General’s office filed a “pre-clearance submission” in federal court requesting that a three-judge panel approve the state’s new redistricting maps.

Traditionally, state officials seek out the U.S. Justice Department for that clearance. Texas decided to officially file the request in federal court and “informally” submit the information to the Department of Justice, according to legal filings. Democrats have charged that the state’s Republican leadership is pursuing the court case because they know a Justice Department under the Obama administration would determine the maps are in violation of the Voting Rights Act.

Davis and Veasey are hoping their legal action will allow them to argue against the Republican-approved maps in the federal case.

Their motion focuses largely on the congressional plan and specifically the way Senate District 10, currently represented by Davis, was redrawn in the new state senate map. In both cases, the Fort Worth Democrats argue that large minority communities are purposely drawn into districts where their voting strength would be effectively drowned out.

You can see their motion here, and some background information relating to SD10 that was provided by Sen. Davis’ staff is here. As we progress down the line and get updates on this lawsuit or that it will be increasingly difficult to remember which suit is which, and on what arguments and/or alternate maps they’re based. May as well just accept that now and get used to it. (According to this story, “Another redistricting lawsuit was transferred from federal court in Houston to San Antonio on Thursday.” Which lawsuit and which court are left as an exercise for the reader.)

Anyway. The full TDP statement on which the first story is based, plus a press release by Sen. Davis, are beneath the fold.

(more…)

Civil rights complaint against Texas curriculum

This ought to be interesting.

Two civil rights organizations are seeking a federal review of public school education in Texas, accusing state school administrators of violating federal civil rights laws after curriculum changes approved earlier this year by the Texas Board of Education.

The request to the U.S. Department of Education made by the Texas NAACP and Texas League of United Latin American Citizens on Monday contended that the curriculum changes passed in May “were made with the intention to discriminate” and would have a “stigmatizing impact” on African-American and Latino students.

“The State of Texas is failing to provide many of its minority students with equal educational opportunities,” documents sent to the federal department said.

The request, signed by Gary Bledsoe, president of the state NAACP, and Joey D. Cardenas Jr., state director of Texas LULAC, asked that implementation of the curriculum changes and new standardized tests be stopped for being racially or ethnically offensive or historically inaccurate.

Besides the curriculum complaint, they accused the state, the Texas Education Agency and the Texas Board of Education of “miseducation” of minority students, disparate discipline for minority students, using accountability standards to impose sanctions on schools with high numbers of minority students and rules leading to underrepresentation of minorities in gifted and talented school programs.

That was an AP story; here’s the Chron version. Here’s a press release and a talking points document. This is not a lawsuit, but could possibly turn into one. I wish I could show you the documents they presented, but neither the Texas NAACP nor the Texas LULAC websites had anything relevant. I have no idea what if anything may come of this, but I look forward to seeing whatever does happen. The DMN has more.

San Antonio smoking ban protests

The proposal to strengthen the smoking ban in San Antonio has drawn protest from a previously silent constituency.

LULAC, the San Antonio Mixed Beverage Association, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the San Antonio Restaurant Association joined forces to create the Save Our Jobs Alliance. The coalition opposes strengthening the city’s smoking ban.

LULAC got involved, [its President Rosa] Rosales said, because the organization believes “there is a disparity in the application of this ordinance.”

[…]

The proposal would adversely impact small, minority and women-owned businesses, Rosales said.

She took aim at cigar bars, which could be exempt from the new ordinance.

“Who goes to a bar to buy a $30 cigar? Who goes to a bar to buy a $40 cognac?” she said on the steps of City Hall during the alliance’s news conference Monday. “We don’t do that. We don’t have that kind of money. And that’s disparity treatment.”

Others, including Mi Tierra restaurateur and restaurant association president Ruben Cortez, said the proposed ordinance would put San Antonio businesses at a disadvantage.

“It’s all about economics,” Cortez said. “We’re not fighting the science.”

The San Antonio Mixed Beverage Association’s Bill Johnson, a bar owner who led Monday’s news conference, offered a doomsday scenario if the proposal were adopted later this year. He said it could lead to the loss of “hundreds, possibly thousands” of local jobs in the bar and restaurant industry.

San Antonio’s proposal doesn’t differ that much from what is currently in place in Austin, Houston, and Dallas. El Paso’s “strictest in the nation” smoking ban was enacted in 2002. Only the Alamo City and Fort Worth have more lenient ordinances. I have to ask, how does San Antonio differ from those other cities? Houston’s ordinance specifically exempts cigar bars, too. I don’t recall anyone making this argument about it back then, though I suppose I could have missed it.

As for the claims about job loss, again I say we have many examples to study. The results in El Paso after a year of their new ordinance showed that bars and restaurants did just fine. What San Antonio’s Council is studying isn’t anything new or untested. If you want to make claims about its potential economic impact, show me some data from Austin, Houston, Dallas, or El Paso that backs up those claims. We’re long past the hypothetical stage on anti-smoking ordinances, so please spare me the hyperbole. Show me jobs lost in other cities, or I call BS.