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redistricting

The end of the voter ID fight

I guess that’s it.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

After seven long years of litigation, opponents of Texas’ voter ID law say the case is over.

In a court filing on Wednesday, opponents of the law requiring Texas voters to present photo identification to vote told a federal district judge that the case was settled and that they would not pursue any other remedies or changes to the law they first challenged in 2011 as discriminatory against voters of color.

Because neither party in the case asked for rehearing or attempted to kick it up to U.S. Supreme Court, “the substantive merits and remedy phases of this long-standing case are over,” they wrote.

The filing follows the state’s June request to U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos of Corpus Christi to reconsider previous findings that the state’s voter ID law was enacted to purposefully discriminate against Hispanic and black voters. That request came two days after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Texas lawmakers did not intentionally discriminate when they signed off on congressional and state House maps in 2013 — a decision that Texas argued “cast irremovable doubt” on previous decisions against the voter ID law.

[…]

In Wednesday’s filing, opponents of the law asked the court to dismiss the state’s request because there was nothing left to pursue in the case given the 5th Circuit’s ruling that the changes made to law in SB 5 were “an effective remedy” to the original 2011 law that was deemed legally defective.

They also described Texas’s arguments that “new Supreme Court precedent has somehow changed the standard for discriminatory intent that this Court applied in prior holdings” as “frivolous.” The only remaining issues in the case are fees and costs related to the litigation, according to the plaintiffs.

See here and here for the background. We may still be sparring over legal fees when the 2021 Lege convenes with the task of drawing the next decade’s districts, but that’s not going to affect what anyone has to do to vote. As we’ve seen quite a bit lately, this is going to require a political solution. At the federal level, with a new Congress and a new President, a new Voting Rights Act can be passed. At the state level, the voter ID law can be repealed, though at what point the conditions would apply that would allow for that is unclear, to say the least. But this is where we are and where we’ll need to go.

Stalking Sessions

It sure would be sweet to beat Pete.

Rep. Pete Sessions

The man who engineered the 2010 Republican takeover of the House is racing to save himself in his own election this year — and he admits, in so many words, that President Donald Trump isn’t helping.

Texas Rep. Pete Sessions, a longtime party leader and former House GOP campaign chief, is confronting a treacherous political landscape back at home — a well-funded Democratic opponent with a boffo résumé, a rapidly diversifying and more liberal district, and, perhaps most critically, a constituency of well-educated and upper-income suburban voters who increasingly are turning on the president.

His predicament underscores the grave danger confronting Republicans this fall. As the party braces for an electoral drubbing that threatens to wipe out the majority they won eight years ago, the list of incumbents under duress is growing ever longer — and even powerful lawmakers like Sessions, a sharp-elbowed tactician who hasn’t faced a serious reelection contest in over a decade, are suddenly trying to survive a Trump-fueled bloodbath. In Texas alone, Democrats are targeting three Republican incumbents who’ve been in office for over a decade.

In an interview this week, Sessions, who was first elected in 1996, was careful not to overtly criticize the president — he praised some aspects of Trump’s record, including on national security. But the Texas congressman pointedly declined to say whether he’d campaign as an ally of the president, who narrowly lost Sessions’ North Dallas district in 2016. And he appeared to concede that some in the business-friendly area — which is home to a number of prominent country club-style Republicans, including former President George W. Bush — have soured on the bombastic commander in chief.

[…]

It’s a far cry from 2010, when Sessions, then the National Republican Congressional Committee chairman, helped to orchestrate a historic 63-seat wave that catapulted his party into power.

Sessions took a startlingly aggressive approach to target powerful Democrats long seen as politically untouchable, recruiting challengers against powerful committee chairmen and other veteran lawmakers who hadn’t faced tough races in years. Many were caught flat-footed and either lost their races or chose not to seek reelection.

This time, the roles are reversed — and it’s Sessions, now serving as the gavel-holder on the influential Rules Committee, who’s under siege.

The prospect of exacting revenge on the Texas congressman has thrilled national Democrats. A super PAC allied with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi plans to spend over $2 million on TV ads in support of Sessions’ opponent, Colin Allred, a former NFL player-turned-attorney and ex-Obama administration official. Major party figures, including former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, are flooding into the district to campaign with the 35-year-old upstart.

We know Sessions hasn’t faced a serious challenger since the 2011 redistricting. As it happens, the best-funded opponent he’s had since defeating Martin Frost in 2004 was in 2010, when Grier Raggio raised $669K. Still, add that to the totals of his 2008 and 2006 opponents, plus the ones from this decade, and it’s still less than what Colin Allred has raised so far. Money isn’t everything, of course, and CD32 was still basically a 12-point district in 2016 outside of the Presidential race. G. Elliott Morris currently gives Dems a 40.7% chance of winning there; for comparison, he has CD07 at 51.2% and CD23 at a whopping 84.7% to flip. Sessions is a big fundraiser and has a reputation as a tough campaigner. Beating him won’t be easy. But it sure would be awesome.

The Trib looks at the AG race

There’s case that this is the second-most interesting statewide race on the ballot.

Justin Nelson

Three years ago almost to the day, a Collin County grand jury indicted Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton for securities fraud. As the state’s top lawyer turned himself into a jail in his hometown of McKinney and smiled for his mug shot, Democrats couldn’t help but feel optimistic. The last time Texas elected a Democrat for attorney general was over two decades ago. Paxton’s legal troubles could potentially serve, they hoped, as the springboard to breaking that streak.

What perhaps no one could have foreseen back in 2015 was the dizzying array of twists and turns the legal case against Paxton would undergo. Three summers later, there is still no trial date in sight and one is unlikely to emerge before Election Day.

Yet despite avoiding a challenge from within his own party this year – arguably the biggest political threat for a statewide official in deep-red Texas – the political fallout from Paxton’s indictment remains to be seen. In November, he’ll face his first actual test of it at the ballot box: a challenge from Democrat Justin Nelson. The well-credentialed Austin lawyer is framing the race as a crystal-clear referendum on the charges that have dogged Paxton for the vast majority of his first term.

“The question that voters will have is who voters want to hire as a lawyer for Texas, for all Texans,” Nelson said in a recent interview. “Voters will be able to choose me, someone who has clerked for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor on the Supreme Court, who has taught at the University of Texas law school, Texas Super Lawyer, a partner at a successful law firm, versus my opponent, who it’s embarrassing that he’s indicted for fraud in one of the most heavily Republican counties in Texas.

“And I think that when voters see that contrast, it will be integrity versus indictment.”

[…]

In Nelson, Democrats have ample reason to be optimistic. He brings an impressive resume to the race as a clerk for former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and current partner at Houston-based litigation powerhouse Susman Godfrey. That network that comes with that — as well as Nelson’s own wealth — has allowed him to build a bigger war chest than any other Democratic statewide candidate beside U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who is running a far more high-profile race to unseat U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz. Still, Paxton maintains a wide cash-on-hand advantage.

In addition to Nelson’s fundraising, Democrats have been buoyed by a pair of public polls that suggested the race may be close. A recent University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll found Paxton leading Nelson among registered voters by just 1 percentage point, but 26 percent of voters had yet to pick a candidate.

“I feel really good about his race,” said state Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, ranking Paxton and Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller as ripe targets for Democratic upsets in November. “[Nelson’s race] is particularly compelling because … I’ve seen people react when you talk about an indictment and an attorney general — I mean, this is our lawyer, and they can’t get their head around the idea that our own lawyer is under indictment. They’ll easily concede, ‘Yeah, he’s innocent until proven guilty’, but it’s the whole image — it’s the whole cloud over the work — it just doesn’t sit easy when you hear about that.”

To be sure, Nelson is not building his challenge entirely around the incumbent’s legal troubles. Nelson also is campaigning on issues like ending gerrymandering, which was the topic of a pub crawl he led last month in Austin that touched three congressional districts in a five-block radius. During an interview at the last stop — at Easy Tiger in downtown Austin — Nelson said he would use his platform as attorney general to fight partisan gerrymandering in particular through written opinions, through the litigation process and at the Legislative Redistricting Board, where the attorney general has a seat. Nelson and Paxton were already on opposite sides of the issue before their race began, having signed on to dueling amicus briefs in the Wisconsin gerrymandering case that the U.S. Supreme Court declined to decide on last month.

Nelson has raised (and loaned himself) a few bucks, he’s got the national Democratic Attorney General Association in his corner, and there’s that one-point poll result; another poll from the Texas Lyceum that includes the AG race will be out next week. And then there’s the wild card of the Paxton trial, and how much the publicity for that has eroded Paxton’s natural advantage as a Republican. Going in on redistricting as an issue is a good idea as well. The main questions as always are how much does the average voter already know about this stuff, how much do they care, and how effectively can Nelson get his message out? Justin Nelson is a very appealing candidate, but he has to overcome the tide. That’s what this boils down to.

Checking in on Pasadena

How’s it going over there?

A year into his four-year term, [Pasadena Mayor Jeff] Wagner says he is focused on unifying a city whose ethnic and socioeconomic inequities were displayed before a national audience during the 2016 trial over a redistricting lawsuit. Current and former city officials say Wagner’s more conciliatory style serves him well in achieving this goal, but they differ on how much progress he’s made.

Pasadena, like Houston, has a strong-mayor system of government. Isbell, who led the city off-and-on from 1981 to 2017, came to symbolize its reputation for intolerance and inequity as witnesses in the redistricting trial testified that the city had systematically neglected the needs of its mostly Latino northside neighborhoods.

In January 2017, Chief U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal found that a revised council district system, initiated by Isbell, intentionally diluted the influence of Latino voters. The city, under Isbell, promptly appealed.

Last September, in what was arguably the most consequential decision of his first year in office, Wagner dropped the appeal. The city agreed to continue electing all eight council members from districts, and to pay a $1 million settlement to the Latino plaintiffs.

Isbell, who left office because of term limits, criticized Wagner’s decision, saying he believed the city would have prevailed on appeal. In an interview last week, however, Wagner said ending the case was an essential step in bringing the city together.

“I didn’t feel that we (the city) had done anything wrong,” said Wagner, 54, a retired Houston police officer. “But I felt we had to get out of it as quickly as we did.”

[…]

Former Councilwoman Pat Van Houte, who continues to keep a close eye on city affairs, offered a mixed assessment of Wagner’s first year leading the city.

“This mayor started with certain promises and he has fulfilled some,” she said, among those dropping the redistricting lawsuit. “He has shown some leadership skills.”

Van Houte said she had been disappointed, however, with some of the administration’s priorities, including the golf course improvements rejected by the council last week.

“The city has been spending quite a bit of money on buildings, and not much in neighborhoods getting the streets and sidewalks done,” she said.

Cody Ray Wheeler, one of three Latinos now on the City Council, was one of Isbell’s harshest critics. On the day of Wagner’s inauguration, Wheeler expressed optimism that Wagner would be more attentive to the needs of northside residents.

It hasn’t worked out that way, Wheeler said last week.

“I went in optimistic, but it feels after a year that it’s the same old thing with a new, smiling face in front of it,” Wheeler said.

As an example of continued inequities, Wheeler offered data about the city’s neighborhood network program, which provides grants to community organizations for neighborhood improvements. During the trial of the redistricting case, witnesses testified that Isbell’s administration had used the program as a political tool, steering grants to groups that were then encouraged to help get out votes for initiatives the mayor favored.

Wheeler did not allege that the practice has continued under Wagner. He said, however, that wealthy, mostly Anglo neighborhoods south of Spencer Highway had received more than $65,000 in grants, while areas north of Spencer had received about $3,000.

“This is a huge disparity in the way the city is handing out grant funds,” Wheeler said during Tuesday’s council meeting.

Settling that redistricting lawsuit was a big deal, and Mayor Wagner deserves credit for that. Sounds like there’s still a lot of room for things to get better. Fulfilling the promise made about bringing transit to Pasadena would be a big step in that direction, but it’s not the only one that could be taken. Maybe Mayor Wagner will make some progress on that on his own, and maybe he’ll need a push from the voters next May.

Same maps, different day

The coda to the SCOTUS redistricting ruling.

The 2018 elections will move forward without any tweaks to Texas’ political maps.

Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling to uphold all but one of the state’s political districts, a three-judge federal panel in San Antonio on Tuesday ordered that the state’s maps should stay in place for this year’s elections despite outstanding issues with House District 90.

The Tarrant County-based district was the sole exception the Supreme Court made in OK’ing the state’s maps last week. That district, which is held by Democratic state Rep. Ramon Romero, was deemed an impermissible racial gerrymander because lawmakers illegally used race as the predominant factor in deciding its boundaries.

It’s likely that opponents of the maps will push for the district to be redrawn, which could affect neighboring Republican-held districts. But as things stand now, the district will only be corrected in time for one election before it likely needs to be redrawn again after the 2020 census.

See here for the background. I don’t even have it in me to make a snarky comment. For seven years of litigation showing clear-cut bad acts to come down to tweaking one safely Democratic district for the 2020 election, it’s a cruel joke. And if the injustice of it all doesn’t motivate you for November, you’re part of the problem. The DMN has more.

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.

SCOTUS punts on non-Texas redistricting cases

The Magic 8 ballSCOTUS says Reply hazy, try again later in the two partisan gerrymandering cases before it.

On Monday, the court punted two major political redistricting cases: Gill v. Whitford, a challenge to Wisconsin’s Republican gerrymander, and Benisek v. Lamone, a challenge to Maryland’s Democratic gerrymander. Together, Gill and Benisek presented the Supreme Court with an opportunity to finally decide whether legislators violate the Constitution when they draw districts designed to dilute the power of voters’ ballots on the basis of their political associations. Instead, the court shooed away both cases on plausible but not entirely satisfactory grounds. Its nondecision will allow partisan gerrymandering to continue for the time being. Yet Justice Elena Kagan’s concurring opinion provides a road map for voting rights advocates to follow in the future—one that might attract Justice Anthony Kennedy’s vote if he remains on the court.

Ironically, Gill’s assault on Wisconsin’s gerrymander failed for precisely the reason that so many advocates thought it would succeed. In 2004, the Supreme Court splintered on the question of whether the judiciary can strike down a legislative map drawn along unduly political lines. Kennedy declared that courts might be able to, because partisan gerrymandering constitutes a genuine threat to voters’ First Amendment rights to free association and expression. But first, Kennedy wrote, the courts would need reliable, manageable, and consistent “judicial standards” to determine when, exactly, a gerrymander infringes upon these rights.

Gill marked an effort to hand Kennedy that standard, in the form of the “efficiency gap.” This formula measures two types of “wasted votes”: “lost votes” cast for a defeated candidate and “surplus votes” cast for a winning candidate that weren’t necessary for her to win. As its creator explains it, the efficiency gap measures “the difference between the parties’ respective wasted votes in an election, divided by the total number of votes cast.” A large efficiency gap indicates a particularly egregious partisan gerrymander; an efficiency gap of 7 percent can entrench the majority party’s power indefinitely. Wisconsin’s GOP-drawn gerrymander has an efficiency gap of 13 percent, indicating that Democrats could not possibly win back a majority in the state legislature. The Gill plaintiffs used this calculation as proof that Wisconsin Republicans had trammeled their First Amendment rights.

But here’s the problem: In order to bring a lawsuit in federal court, an individual must have standing—a “particularized injury” that burdens their rights individually. And in Gill, the group of voters who sued Wisconsin Republicans had not proved that their specific votes had been diluted on account of their association with the Democratic Party. Instead, Chief Justice Roberts wrote in his majority opinion, they “rested their case” on a “theory of statewide injury to Wisconsin Democrats.” This statewide injury, Roberts held, was not sufficiently particularized to give the plaintiffs standing to sue. So he sent the case back down to the lower court, giving the plaintiffs another opportunity to prove that Wisconsin’s gerrymander directly injures them.

[…]

Kagan, on the other hand, wrote a concurring opinion, joined by the other three liberals, effectively providing the plaintiffs with guidance on how to prove standing next time around. After reiterating that partisan gerrymandering is “incompatible with democratic principles,” Kagan explained that the plaintiffs should now “introduce evidence that their individual districts” were drawn to dilute Democratic votes. Moreover, the lower court should still “consider statewide evidence,” such as GOP mapmakers’ explicit desire to create a map that disfavored Democrats. Taken together, this evidence should suffice to give the plaintiffs standing.

But Kagan went further, giving the plaintiffs a different route to victory on their second try. The justice explained that partisan gerrymandering may burden a voter’s constitutional rights even if she does not live in a gerrymandered district. In Wisconsin, for example, all members of the state Democratic party are “deprived of their natural political strength by a partisan gerrymander.” As a result, members of this “disfavored party … may face difficulties fundraising, registering voters, attracting volunteers, generating support from independents, and recruiting candidates to run for office.” Individual voters may have standing, Kagan wrote, when mapmakers burden their “associational rights” in this manner. And their injury—a broad harm to their “First Amendment rights of association”—would be fairly easy to prove.

I’ll let you read that story and the “more reading” links at the end for analysis, but that’s the gist of it there. Expect to see this case take another tour through the courts, with a different name or set of names on top. The main thing to remember otherwise is that these cases were about partisan gerrymandering, which is not a claim being decided in the Texas litigation. That one is an old-fashioned racial discrimination claim, so the court has no real basis to send it back. Though with this court, who knows. I was clearly of the opinion back in April when the case was argued that we would have a decision by the end of June, but now I think I got that wrong. The Gill case was argued last October, so based on that I now expect this to be handed down late in the year. But again, with this court, who knows? Ian Millhiser, Rick Hasen, Daily Kos, and Pema Levy have more.

Cities and suburbs up, rurals down

The story of Texas’ population.

Recently released data from the Texas Demographic Center spelled bad news for many rural areas in the state: populations there were still shrinking, or growing slowly.

Population growth in Texas remained concentrated in urban areas in 2016, according to the new numbers. That meant the fight continues for many small towns in Texas that are struggling to maintain or build their communities and economies.

The new estimates, released in late April, approximate population per county as of July 1, 2016. They were calculated using different methodology than U.S. Census Data estimates. Usually, the two are within range of each other, said Lloyd Potter, the state demographer.

State results confirm an ongoing trend in the second-most populous state in the country of movement toward urban centers and the booming suburban areas that surround them.

“Texas is growing more than any other state,” Potter said. “Those points are really where the bulk of the population growth is occurring.”

Here’s the Texas Demographic Center website. There’s a link to the 2016 Preliminary Population Estimates, though when I looked the 2016 data was not yet there. I’ll be interested to see how these numbers compare to the Census projections for Harris County. Nothing is official until the 2020 count is done, as problematic as that may be, but this is a preview of the redistricting to come. It’s never too early to start thinking about what the next set of maps will look like.

SCOTUS hears the redistricting arguments

It’s in their hands now.

Much of the argument concerned the issue of whether the case was properly before the justices at all.

Last year, a three-judge panel of the Federal District Court for the Western District of Texas, in San Antonio, ruled that a congressional district including Corpus Christi denied Hispanic voters “their opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice.” The district court also rejected a second congressional district stretching from San Antonio to Austin, saying that race had been the primary factor in drawing it.

In a separate decision, the district court found similar flaws in several state legislative districts.

But the court did not issue an injunction compelling the state to do anything, and only instructed Texas officials to promptly advise it about whether they would try to draw new maps.

[…]

The question for the justices, [Allison J. Riggs, a lawyer for the challengers] said, was, “Did the Legislature adopt the interim plan for race-neutral reasons, or did it use the adoption of that interim plan as a mask for the discriminatory intent that had manifested itself just two years ago?”

Later in the argument, she answered her own question. “They wanted to end the litigation,” she said, “by maintaining the discrimination against black and Latino voters, muffling their growing political voice in a state where black and Latino voters’ population is exploding.”

See here for the previous update. I’ll be honest, I’m a little unclear as to what exactly SCOTUS may be ruling on. The DMN has the most concise summary of that:

If the justices side with the state:
The lower court’s ruling could be vacated and Texas’ electoral maps would stay the same until they are next redrawn in 2021.

A victory for the state would also benefit Republican lawmakers, who would start their next redistricting session with more districts that are favorable to Anglo voters, who tend to vote Republican. That would slow the growth of districts with majority minority populations, which tend to vote Democrat, and whose numbers are fueling the state’s population growth.

If the court sides with the map’s challengers:
The case would be sent back to the San Antonio court, which would start hearings on how to redraw new maps that could also be appealed to the Supreme Court. Changing the challenged districts could have a ripple effect on surrounding districts and lead to more Democrats being elected.

A victory for them could spell deeper trouble for Texas. The San Antonio court could consider whether to place the state back under federal supervision for changes made to its election laws and maps. Texas and several other states with a history of discrimination were under “pre-clearance” — a protection under the Voting Rights Act for minorities who were historically disenfranchised — until a Supreme Court ruling in 2013.

If the justices rule it’s out of their jurisdiction:
The Supreme Court could send the case back to San Antonio because — despite the state’s argument that the order is in essence an injunction — the court hasn’t blocked the use of the current maps yet. Then the case could play out in much the same way as if the Supreme Court had sided with maps’ challengers, and the state could again appeal to the Supreme Court if the court formally blocks the maps.

In that latter case, I presume we[‘d go through the motions of getting a final ruling from the lower court, then going back to SCOTUS since surely there would be another appeal. From the way the hearing went it sounds like at least some of the justices think now is not the time for them to get involved, so be prepared for this to not be over yet. Whatever it is they do, they’ll do it by the summertime, so at least we won’t have to wait that long. CNN, NBC, SCOTUSBlog, Justin Levitt, the WaPo, and the Chron have more.

Today is Texas redistricting day at SCOTUS

The Chron sets the table.

The nine justices of the U.S. Supreme Court will take their seats Tuesday morning to hear a case that could remake the political map of Texas.

Hidden in the legalese of “interlocutory injunctions” and “statutory defects” is this simple question for the justices to dissect: Did the Republican-led state Legislature purposely draw its last legislative and congressional boundaries to subvert the voting power of Latino and African-American voters?

The answer, expected by June, could influence the racial and partisan makeup of the state’s political districts, culminating a long, high-stakes legal battle that has the potential to turn Texas a little more blue.

A possible finding of voting rights violations also could force the Lone Star State back under federal supervision for future election disputes, a civil rights remedy associated with the state’s segregationist past. Texas only got removed from federal preclearance requirements in 2013. Restrictions requiring strict federal scrutiny of all elections had been in place since the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

“The Texas case thus could be in a position to break new ground and will be closely watched for that reason,” said legal court analyst Michael Li, writing for the New York University Law School Brennan School of Justice.

See here for the last update. While the Chron story mostly covers familiar ground, it does note that thanks to other cases currently being considered by SCOTUS, the state is probably not going to use the “it was just a partisan matter” defense. Michael Li discusses that in this Q&A he did with the Observer:

What should we know about the other two redistricting cases before the Supreme Court?

In Texas, the claims are about racial fairness, but in the other two cases — in Wisconsin and Maryland — the claims are about partisan gerrymanders.

The Supreme Court has never put partisan gerrymandering out of bounds in the way it has racial gerrymandering, which has left a really big loophole for states to claim they’re only discriminating based on partisanship. It’s become this sort of strange defense you see playing out in states like Texas, where lawmakers essentially argue they’re discriminating against Democrats and not African Americans. That’s because it’s perfectly OK to discriminate against Democrats when you draw the lines. But if [the court] limits partisan gerrymandering, it could shut down the excuse that a lot of places in the South, including Texas, have used.

The two cases being argued on Tuesday are not the Texas maps’ first trip to the Supreme Court. They were also before the Court in 2012, which triggered a bit of a judicial fire drill at the time.

What the state will probably argue is that the current map, which was adopted in 2013, is legal and needs no changes made. Ian Millhiser of ThinkProgress breaks that down.

Texas initially drew its gerrymandered maps in 2011, before the Supreme Court struck down much of the Voting Rights Act. Under the fully armed and operational Act, any new Texas voting law had to be submitted to federal officials in Washington, DC for “preclearance” before it could take effect, and a federal court in DC ultimately concluded that the state’s maps were not legal.

Meanwhile, the 2012 election was drawing closer and closer, and Texas still did not have any valid maps it could use to conduct that election.

With this deadline drawing nigh, a federal district court drew its own maps that Texas could use for 2012, but the Supreme Court vacated those maps. In an ominous statement that plays a starring role in Texas’ Perez brief, the Supreme Court explained that “redistricting is ‘primarily the duty and responsibility of the State.’” The district court’s maps, at least according to the justices, needed to be reconsidered because they may not have shown sufficient deference to state lawmakers.

“A district court,” the Supreme Court concluded, “should take guidance from the State’s recently enacted plan in drafting an interim plan.” Thus, even when state lawmakers draw legally dubious maps for the very purpose of giving some voters more power than others, courts should be reluctant to make sweeping changes to those maps.

In fairness, this was not an especially novel holding. The Court proclaimed in 1975that “reapportionment is primarily the duty and responsibility of the State.” But such a holding takes on chilling implications when a state legislature is actively trying to rig elections. Should courts really defer to lawmakers who are a straight up trying to undercut democracy?

It’s likely that a majority of the Supreme Court’s answer to this question in Perezwill be an emphatic “yes!” and that the Court will effectively allow much of Texas’ gerrymander to endure without any meaningful judicial review at all.

After the Supreme Court’s 2012 decision striking down the district court’s maps, the case went back down to the district court with instructions to try again. By this point, it was late January. Texas still had no valid maps, and a primary election was looming. Candidates had no idea where to campaign. Incumbents did not know who their constituents would be.

The result was a rushed, March 2012 order which laid out interim maps that closely resembled the maps drawn by the state legislature. “This interim map is not a final ruling on the merits of any claims asserted by the Plaintiffs in this case or any of the other cases consolidated with this case,” the court warned when it handed down the hastily drawn maps. Nevertheless, the court understood “the need to have the primaries as soon as possible, and the resulting need for the Court to produce an interim map with sufficient time to allow officials to implement the map.”

With few good options, the district court allowed several of Texas’ districts to remain unchanged, even though there were serious concerns that those districts were racial gerrymanders.

Flash forward to 2018, and the Perez cases involve several of these unchanged districts that the district court later held to be illegally gerrymandered. But there’s a catch! The Texas legislature, seeing a potential opportunity to shut down this litigation altogether, took the district court’s inadequately scrutinized, rush-job maps, and wrote them into state law in 2013. They now claim that these maps are immune from judicial review because they were drawn by a court.

“There are few things a legislature can do to avoid protracted litigation over its redistricting legislation,” Texas claims in its brief. “But if the nearly inevitable litigation comes to pass, one would have thought there was one reasonably safe course available to bring it to an end—namely, enacting the three-judge court’s remedial redistricting plan as the legislature’s own.”

It’s a stunning, arrogant claim. The only reason why the district court blessed its interim maps is because it felt it had no choice — a deadline was looming, and the Supreme Court left it with little time to act and an order to defer to the state legislature’s maps whenever possible. The districts at issue in Tuesday’s oral argument never received meaningful judicial scrutiny before they were whisked into action as a matter of necessity.

And yet, it is highly likely that a majority of the Court will agree with Texas’ claim that its maps are immune from review. Though the district court struck down portions of the Texas maps (again), the Supreme Court voted along party lines to reinstate those maps for the 2018 election last September.

One way or the other, we ought to have a clearer idea of what is and is not allowed when maps are drawn. State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez and Travis County Tax Assessor Bruce Elfant, in this Statesman op-ed, explain their motivation for pursuing this litigation, and the Trib has more.

Testimony ends in Dallas County “oppressed white voters” trial

It’ll be awhile before we have a verdict.

Testimony ended Thursday in the landmark redistricting case over whether Dallas County discriminates against white voters.

The four-day trial — Ann Harding vs. Dallas County — featured analysis by local and national redistricting experts and video of two raucous county Commissioners Court meetings.

U.S. District Judge Sidney Fitzwater will wade through the evidence and issue a ruling. That could take months because the judge will receive 50-page closing arguments from lawyers on both sides and hear final oral arguments in late May or early June.

The lawsuit, filed in 2015, contends that the electoral boundaries county commissioners developed in 2011 dilute the white vote. Democrats enjoy a 4-1 advantage on the Commissioners Court. The districts are led by three Democrats — John Wiley Price, who is black; Elba Garcia, who is Hispanic; and Theresa Daniel, who is white. County Judge Clay Jenkins, also a Democrat, is white and is elected countywide. Mike Cantrell, also white, is the only Republican on the court.

See here for the background. I don’t really have anything to add to what I wrote before. I can’t imagine this will get anywhere, but we do live in strange times.

The math on redistricting

It’s not just that Republicans drew themselves a favorable map. It’s that they drew a durable favorable map.

Thanks to those very effective Republican redistricting maps, Texas Democrats would have to improve their statewide election results by more than 10 percentage points to gain more than one seat in the 36-member U.S. House delegation, according to a report from the non-profit Brennan Center for Justice.

The political maps in Texas and elsewhere across the country could ultimately protect the Republican majority in the U.S. House even if it turns out to be an otherwise mediocre midterm election for the president’s political party.

Overall, Republicans have a 24-seat advantage in the U.S. House. Democrats have an advantage over Republicans in recent polling, the report says, but gerrymandering makes a party switch much less likely. To win two dozen seats, by Brennan’s figuring, Democrats would have to win the national popular vote by 11 percentage points.

“Even a strong blue wave would crash against a wall of gerrymandered maps,” the report says.

The 2016 elections put 25 Republicans and 11 Democrats in the state’s delegation to the U.S. House. Democrats got 42 percent of the state’s votes that year, according to the report’s authors. A modest improvement in the share — as little as 2 percent — could move a seat from the Republicans to the Democrats. It’s not hard to figure out that the 23rd Congressional District that runs along the border is what’s in play here; it’s the only true swing seat in the state, regularly primed to go to whichever party is having the better election year.

But here’s the house-on-stilts aspect to the maps. According to the Brennan Center’s projections, the Democrats could improve their statewide vote share by as much as 7 points — to 49 percent — and that’s still the only congressional seat they would pick up.

Listen carefully right now and you’ll hear protests from other parts of the state, like CD-32 in Dallas and CD-7 in Houston, where optimistic Democratic challengers are vying to unseat Pete Sessions and John Culberson. They might be right. The study isn’t trying to predict races. It’s trying to show how strongly the Republicans cemented their advantage in Texas, given normal conditions. Actual mileage may vary.

It would take a tsunami — a double-digit leap in Democrat’s percentage share — to gain more than a single seat in Texas. Something like that would still leave the Republicans in the majority, but it would be a 19-17 advantage instead of the 25-11 edge they have now. “For Democrats to win more than one-third of seats under the 2011 Texas map, they would need to win close to half the vote,” the report says.

The report is here and the executive summary is here. It looks at multiple states and is worth reading for its methodology and thoroughness. One way to look at this is that if Democrats can get to fifty percent of the statewide vote, then there are an awful lot of Congressional seats that would be poised to topple in their direction. Republicans drew this map on the quite reasonable so far assumption that Dems will not get to a majority of the statewide vote, but if that assumption were to fail they’d go from a trickle to a flood in a big hurry.

If it’s too daunting to think about like that, the way I look at it is that the magic number for Democrats is 2.7 million, which is to say 75% of their 2016 vote total. I’ve noodled around with the numbers before now, and that’s where things get interesting, in multiple districts. Not just Congressional districts, either – State Senate seats start to flip as well. On the one hand, that’s a huge increase over the usual off-year total. On the other hand, it’s asking people who have at least some history of voting to vote this year. Democrats gained 800,000 votes from 2004 to 2008, so a big jump can happen. What this report is saying, and I agree with it, is that this is what needs to happen. Are we up to it?

White voters sue Dallas County over claims of voter discrimination

I have four things to say about this.

Are white voters in Dallas County being discriminated against?

That question, which might cause some to chuckle, will be answered after a trial starting April 16 that could change the face of the voting rights struggle in America.

Four white residents are suing Dallas County, claiming that the current boundaries of county commissioner districts violate their voting rights. The case is believed to be one of the first in the nation where a group of whites is seeking protection under the Voting Rights Act.

The lawsuit foreshadows a potential turnabout in Texas’ and the nation’s racial politics. As Hispanics, blacks and other minorities close in on making America a country where minorities make up the majority, some whites are attempting to use civil rights laws to protect themselves from what they see as discrimination.

Dallas County, once dominated by white Republicans until demographic shifts paved the way for Democrats, is the ideal testing ground for such a case.

“There will be people who look up and say ‘oh, come on,’ but the facts are clear and it should not matter who is on the short end of the stick,” said Dallas lawyer Dan Morenoff, executive director of the Equal Voting Rights Institute. “The whole point is to assure state and local government can’t rig elections against races they don’t like.”

The white residents are backed by the Equal Voting Rights Institute. They are asking the court that the current Commissioners Court boundaries, approved in 2011, be redrawn to allow white residents to elect the commissioner of their choice.

[…]

Redistricting experts say the plaintiffs will have a hard time prevailing over the county. The Voting Rights Act, in part, protects victims of historical and systemic discrimination. White voters don’t fall in that class. A challenge to the maps on grounds that the white residents’ constitutional rights were violated has already faded.

“That’s a pretty high hurdle to overcome,” said Michael Li, an election law expert and senior counsel for the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program at New York University. “There hasn’t been a history of discrimination against white voters in Dallas County.”

Justin Levitt, associate dean for research at Loyola University in Los Angeles, agreed.

“You have to prove that the government intentionally took action against people because of their race. That is going to be much harder to demonstrate,” he said. “The case is going to turn on whether there is a history of discrimination against Anglos or present-day signs of discrimination.”

[…]

The lawsuit argues that the political clout of white voters has been purposefully diminished. Whites in Dallas County overwhelmingly vote for Republicans, the suit says, while blacks and Hispanics tend to vote for Democrats. The 4-to-1 Democrat-to-Republican ratio is a sign that whites have become disenfranchised, the suit says.

“The plaintiffs’ view is that a map was drawn on the basis of race to make sure a group couldn’t elect the candidate of their choice,” Morenoff said. “We think the law is pretty clear that it’s illegal. We’re making the same arguments that plaintiffs have made in Texas the past few decades. The law protects racial minorities whoever they are.”

But a white majority exists on the Commissioners Court even though Hispanics represent the largest racial group in the county. According to the U.S. Census, Hispanics make up 39 percent of the county population. The county is 33 percent white and 22 percent black.

[County Judge Clay] Jenkins, [Commissioner Theresa] Daniel and [Commissioner Mike] Cantrell are white. Daniel is a Democrat and Cantrell is a Republican. There is one black commissioner, Democrat John Wiley Price, and one Hispanic commissioner, Garcia, a Democrat.

The plaintiffs are arguing that white conservatives were not able to elect their candidate of choice.

Whites make up 48 percent of Dallas County voters, but essentially elect 25 percent (one commissioner) of the court, the lawsuit states.

Many white voters were packed into precincts controlled by Daniel, Price and Garcia. And others had their votes wasted after being packed into Cantrell’s Precinct 2, the lawsuit says.

Lawyers for the county disagreed in a court filing.

“Plaintiffs’ amended complaint fails to allege or demonstrate how the currently elected County Commissioners are not the candidate of choice of Anglo voters,” they wrote. “Even if the five commissioners are the candidates of choice of African-American and Latino voters, that fact does not preclude those Commissioners from also being the candidates of choice of Anglo voters.”

The trial is expected to take four days.

Li, the election law expert who spent 10 years in Dallas as a lawyer for Baker Botts, says redistricting cases like the one in Dallas County could evolve into referendums on partisan gerrymandering. Two such cases are before the U.S. Supreme Court.

“In the future, instead of race-based claims, they may claim that there was partisan gerrymandering,” Li said.

1. Good luck with that.

2. There are only four commissioners per county, plus a County Judge, so the result of one election can have a dramatic change to the partisan ration – you can go from 50-50 to 75-25 overnight, for example. Add in the County Judge and a “balanced” Court will be 60-40 one way or the other. My point here is that there’s only so much precision one can achieve.

3. Also, too: Harris County is at least as Democratic as Dallas is Republican, and at least as non-Anglo as Dallas is. Yet Harris County Commissioners Court has four Anglo Republicans and one African-American Democrat. Commissioners precincts were also redrawn following the 2010 election in which Jack Morman ousted Sylvia Garcia to protect the most vulnerable of the Anglo commissioners. Be careful what you’re wishing for here, Republicans. And yes, there was a lawsuit filed here over that, and the plaintiffs lost. Anyone think these folks in Dallas have a better claim than the plaintiffs in Harris County did?

4. Too bad the Supreme Court kneecapped the Voting Rights Act, huh? Maybe casting this as a partisan gerrymandering claim will help, assuming SCOTUS finds a remedy for that. In which case, again I say to be careful what you ask for, Republicans.

A copy of the lawsuit is here, and the county’s response is here/a>; they are also embedded in the story. As always, I welcome feedback from the lawyers out there.

It’s going to be redistricting time for Texas at SCOTUS soon

Here’s an update.

In their latest brief to the U.S. Supreme Court, the voting and minority rights groups challenging Texas’ political maps painted Republican state lawmakers as “opportunistically inconsistent in their treatment of appearance versus reality.”

Pointing to the lawmakers’ 2013 adoption of a court-drawn map that was meant to be temporary, the groups chronicled the actions as “a ruse,” a “shellgame strategy” and a devious “smokescreen” meant to obscure discriminatory motives behind a previous redistricting plan.

Channeling their anger toward the lower court that found lawmakers intentionally discriminated against voters of color, state attorneys used a February brief to denounce the court’s ruling as one that “defies law and logic,” suffers multiple “legal defects” and “flunks the commonsense test to boot.”

[…]

The legal fight between the state and its legal foes, which include several voters of color, has been churning through the courts since 2011. That was when lawmakers embarked on redrawing the state’s congressional and legislative districts to account for explosive growth, particularly among Hispanic residents, following the 2010 census.

Those maps never took effect because Texas, at the time, was still required to get federal approval of changes to its political maps before using them in elections. A federal court in Washington eventually rejected the boundaries, ruling they violated federal safeguards for voters of color. But by then, a three-judge federal panel in San Antonio had ordered up interim maps for congressional and state House districts to be used for the 2012 elections.

The San Antonio court at the time warned that the interim maps were still subject to revision. But state lawmakers in 2013 adopted those maps as their own, with few tweaks.

That move, the state contends, was a “conciliatory act” in which the Legislature “embraced the court’s maps for the perfectly permissible reason that it wanted to bring the litigation to an end.”

But in their brief filed last week with the high court, attorneys for voters and legislators challenging the maps described the 2013 maneuver in much different terms:

“In the State’s telling, there was a brief, shining moment in 2013 when Texas history reversed course and the Texas Legislature fell all over itself to conform state conduct to a federal court’s provisional observations. The district court rightly saw through the 2013 masquerade.”

As noted before, oral arguments will be on April 24, so gird your loins and make sure children and pets are in safe places. I will remind everyone that there were actually two remedial maps produced by the three-judge panel way back in 2011. The first one, which was based on the previous decade’s pre-cleared-and/or-ruled-VRA-compliant-by-SCOTUS maps, was thrown out by SCOTUS on the grounds that the panel needed to defer to the new maps as drawn by the Lege as their starting point. Which the court did, and which it did without taking into consideration the VRA Section 2 claims on which the plaintiffs subsequently prevailed. As such, claims that the interim maps solved all the problems and should have been the end of the litigation are false. The maps had problems, which the courts ultimately found, and that’s even before we get into the “intent” question.

Anyway. What happens from here is unknown. SCOTUS has had a busy term grappling with redistricting questions, but unlike the partisan-gerrymandering claims from Wisconsin and Maryland, this is old-fashioned racial discrimination/Voting Rights Act stuff. It’s also our last chance to remediate any damages before the next redistricting cycle. It would not be much of a win for the plaintiffs if we never get to have an election under non-discriminatory maps.

The history of CD07

Good read, though not really anything we didn’t already know.

West University could have been the set for “Leave it to Beaver” when Serpell Edwards and his wife Betsy bought their home there 45 years ago. The neighbors were mostly white, the moms stayed at home and took care of the kids, and the politics were reliably Republican.

West U. was part of Houston’s Seventh Congressional District, which had flipped from Democrat to Republican back in 1966, when a handsome young oilman named George H.W. Bush won the seat.

“The Seventh” soon came to be considered the safest GOP district in Texas, if not all of America, dominated for almost 50 years by Bill Archer, who succeeded Bush in 1970, and the current incumbent Republican, John Culberson, who’s occupied the seat since Archer retired in 2000.

But now, as Texas is transformed by hundreds of thousands of new arrivals from other states and other countries, The Seventh has become one of the shakiest — among two dozen Republican districts nationally that Democrat Hillary Clinton carried in the 2016 election.

Democratic turnout surged in Tuesday’s primary election, spurred in part by President Donald Trump’s intense unpopularity among liberals and his seemingly limitless capacity to energize minorities, who now make up a majority of residents in The Seventh, reflecting the transformation of Texas as a whole.

“We have noticed a flood of vote Democratic signs,” said Edwards, 75. “This never happened before.”

If deep red Texas turns purple and then blue over the next several election cycles, as some political experts and demographers believe it could, The Seventh and other districts like it in and around Texas’ already blue major cities most likely would be ground zero.

“Politics always follows cultural shifts, and this district is coming of age right now,” said Mustafa Tameez, a political consultant born in Pakistan who lives in The Seventh, worked as a homeland security consultant for former President George W. Bush and later managed the campaign of the first Vietnamese-American elected to the Texas House, a Democrat.

“This is not the district of Bill Archer any more, certainly not the district that George H.W. Bush won for the Republicans,” he said. “And it’s not the district that John Culberson first ran in.”

Instead of mostly white Republicans, with pockets of African-Americans and Latinos, the district is now a rainbow of different cultures — 38 percent white, 31 percent Latino, 12 percent African-American and 10 percent Asian, a demographic face that looks like much of the rest of Texas, which in 2014 was 44.4 percent white, 38.2 percent Latino, 11.6 percent black and 4.1 percent Asian.

Like I said, it’s a good read, so go check it out. The main thing I have to add is that CD07 went from being solid red to semi-competitive last decade, under the previous map, as well. Look at the precinct analyses I did in 2006 and 2008 for a sense of that. The 2011 redistricting reset the clock on CD07’s competitiveness, basically by shifting Democratic-friendly precincts to other districts, including CD02, while putting more of the far western portion of Harris County into CD07. As was the case last decade, the interior parts of CD07 became a darker shade of blue, while the red parts of the district got a little less red. I figured then, and still figure now, that the future for CD07 is to shift farther west, outside the borders of Harris County, much as CD32 was redrawn to include turf outside Dallas County, to counter the increasingly Democratic trend of Harris County. But we still have two elections to get through before we have to worry about that.

Abbott’s anti-anti-redistricting task force

Alternate title: Dude with deep pockets gives Greg Abbott a wad of cash to stop those evil Democrats.

As Gov. Greg Abbott sounds the alarm about Democratic efforts to influence the post-2020 redistricting process, he is being backed up by a new super PAC led by a key ally.

The super PAC, #ProjectRedTX, has quietly raised a half a million dollars — from a single donor — as it looks to ensure Republican dominance in Texas through the next round of redistricting. Those efforts are ramping up as the state prepares to defend its current congressional and state House district maps before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The group is being helmed by Wayne Hamilton, Abbott’s 2014 campaign manager, according to a person familiar with the effort. Hamilton, a former longtime executive director of the Texas GOP, has been involved in politics for the past three redistricting cycles.

“Our Mission is to create and support effective efforts to secure Republican representation in redistricting across the state,” the super PAC says on its website. “This mission includes making expenditures to support candidates. Additionally, we will provide support for redistricting effort with expert demographers, statisticians and legal counsel.”

[…]

The super PAC was formed in April of last year but did not show any activity until more recently. At the end of January, it reported collecting two donations — $200,000 in November and $300,000 in December — from a single person: Michael Porter, a retiree from the tiny Hill Country town of Doss.

See here for the background. This dude has written a big check to Greg Abbott before, and I’m sure he’ll do it again the next time Abbott sends him a scary email. Lather, rinse, repeat.

SCOTUS will hear oral arguments in the Texas redistricting case in April

On April 24, to be specific, according to Michael Li on Twitter. Both the Congressional and state legislative cases will be consolidated into one for the arguments. That means we should have a ruling by the end of June. See here for some background, and the Brennan Center for pretty much everything you need to know.

The National Democratic Redistricting Committee in Texas

Let’s say I’m hope but verify on this one.

Former President Barack Obama and members of his administration are ready to take another shot at chipping away at Republican domination in Texas.

A new group headed by former Attorney General Eric Holder and with the public backing of Obama is targeting Texas among 11 states in which they are determined to change the redistricting process to assure more competitive state House and Senate races in the future.

“In 2011, Republicans created gerrymandered districts that locked themselves into power and shut out voters from the electoral process,” Holder said in announcing the National Democratic Redistricting Committee’s electoral targets earlier this week.

“By focusing on these state and local races, we can ensure Democrats who will fight for fairness have a seat at the table when new maps are drawn in 2021,” he added.

And Harris County will be a big part of the plan. State Democrats have already highlighted more than 20 seats in the Texas House that Hillary Clinton either won over Donald Trump in 2016 or lost narrowly — a list the new NDRC group is well versed in, said Kelly Ward, executive director of the group.

Ward said her group hasn’t made specific targets yet, but said after the primaries in March they will begin to hone in on more specific targets.

[…]

[Manny Garcia, the Texas Democratic Party’s Deputy Executive Director] said state Democrats welcome the attention from national groups. He said the recognition from group’s like Holder’s only offers further vindication of the progress Texas Democrats are making.

In 2011, the Texas House had 101 Republicans and 49 Democrats. Since then, Democrats have gained 6 seats and have hopes for more in 2018. In the Senate, though Republicans have a 9 seat edge, Garcia said picking up just two seats would have a big impact on how the Senate operates.

Currently Democrats have few procedural tools to slow down the Republican agenda in Austin. But with two additional seats, Democrats would have enough votes to force Republicans to have to listen to them.

It all sounds good, but this isn’t the first time we’ve heard from a big-name group of former Obama staffers with big ideas and the promise of major resources, so I trust you’ll forgive me if I refrain from swooning just yet. They’re saying the right things, and the fact that Senate races are in the discussion is a positive, but we’ll know it when we see it if this is a real and serious thing.

On a broader note, I think a promise of a better and less-partisan redistricting process would have some appeal to less-partisan voters. Since the ouster of Sen. Jeff Wentworth, it’s Democrats who have taken up the thankless task of filing a bill for a non-partisan redistricting committee. Such a bill is highly unlikely to go anywhere without a Democratic majority, and of course once there is a Democratic majority the urge to use the process for our own benefit will be strong. Maybe things would be different this time, and who knows, if you get enough people to campaign and win on a fair-and-less-partisan redistricting process they may actually act on it once elected. It’s worth a shot.

Congressional maps from an alternate universe

FiveThirtyEight goes a little nuts.

The max Dem map

Drawing clever political districts is one way politicians in Texas and elsewhere avoid accountability — by protecting themselves from voters who disagree with them. They do this by stuffing weirdly shaped geographic districts with voters who agree with them.

A new examination of redistricting shows how effective legislators have done that nationally — and in Texas, and how changing the rules for drawing political maps could dramatically change who represents you at the state and federal Capitols.

FiveThirtyEight unleashed a fascinating series of maps for their Gerrymandering Project series Thursday as the U.S. Supreme Court considers several cases that could solidify or disrupt redistricting practices in Texas and other states. In two closely watched cases, the court is deciding whether it’s possible — as a matter of law — to draw political districts that are so partisan they strip voters of their constitutional rights.

The data-centric news site crunched the numbers and lines and devised seven different ways to draw congressional maps for all 50 states: maximizing Republican seats; maximizing Democratic seats; matching each district’s partisan lean to that of the state overall; maximizing the number of highly competitive seats; drawing the greatest possible number of seats with minority-majority populations; drawing the most compact districts possible, using a computer algorithm; and drawing the most compact districts possible while crossing county lines as few times as possible.

They also offered up a full explanation of how they did it. It’s worth noting that they make no claims as to the legality of their maps — whether federal judges would approve of either their assumptions or the results.

What’s really interesting is how each set of new rules would change the maps.

The Trib story goes on to summarize the results for Texas, but I’d say at this point you should just click over and view the maps yourself. As you can see, it is possible (among other things) to draw a map where Democrats win a majority of the seats. As I recall from way back in 2003, during the DeLay re-redistricting saga, someone – it may have been Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, I don’t recall and don’t feel like looking – submitted a map that would have done something similar. Some of these maps would likely be illegal, some are aesthetically unpleasing, some would leave a large number of voters feeling disenfranchised, but all are at least theoretically possible. Take a look and see what you think.

I will just add, redistricting is a multi-dimensional task. Sure, if all you care about is partisan maximization, there’s not much else to consider. But in the aspirational world of non-partisan redistricting committees, there are a number of factors to consider. Districts still have to obey the Voting Rights Act, which can lead to some odd district shapes (see, for instance CDs 18 and 33 in our current map) as neighborhoods with high levels of minority voters are stitched together to ensure compliance. Other considerations like communities of interest, compactness, and competitiveness can pull things in opposing directions. Is it better to keep cities whole as much as possible, or is it better to have more members of Congress who have constituents that live in that city? There’s room for debate. Check it out and have fun.

SCOTUS will not hear Texas partisan gerrymandering appeal

Not really a big deal.

Texas, for now, will not join the list of states fighting in court over the limits of partisan gerrymandering.

As it considers cases out of other states over whether extreme practices of partisan gerrymandering can be deemed unconstitutional, the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday dismissed the efforts of Texas Democrats and other plaintiffs to revive a related legal claim in the ongoing litigation over the state’s political boundaries.

The high court’s dismissal comes just days after it agreed to hear a case over whether Texas’ congressional and House district boundaries discriminate against voters of color. In that case, the state appealed a three-judge panel’s ruling against the state that included findings of intentional discrimination by state lawmakers, unconstitutional racial gerrymandering and violations of the Voting Rights Act.

[…]

Pointing to Texas’ “stark admission” that lawmakers were “motivated by the Legislature’s desire to dilute the voting strength of Democratic voters,” the Texas Democratic Party and other plaintiffs had asked the Supreme Court to reconsider the three-judge panel’s decision to dismiss partisan gerrymandering claims in the case in 2011 and 2014 without any discovery or trial. But the Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed with state attorneys who had argued that the court lacked jurisdiction to consider the party’s appeal.

See here for the background. Hey, it was worth a shot. There are other cases ongoing, and as Michael Li notes, there will be other opportunities for the TDP or some other interested party to try again later. The Chron and Rick Hasen have more.

SCOTUS will take up Texas redistricting appeal

As the man once said, hold onto your butts.

Further extending a drawn-out legal battle, the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear a case over whether Texas’ congressional and House district boundaries discriminate against voters of color.

The high court’s decision to take the case is a short-term win for Texas’ Republican leaders who, in an effort to preserve the maps in question, had appealed two lower court rulings that invalidated parts of the state’s maps and would have required the district lines to be redrawn to address several voting rights violations.

The Supreme Court’s decision to weigh that appeal will further delay any redrawing efforts even after almost seven years of litigation between state attorneys and minority rights groups that challenged the maps.

[…]

The state’s currents maps, which have been in place for the past three election cycles, were adopted by the Legislature after the three-judge panel in San Antonio in 2012 tweaked boundaries drawn following the 2010 census.

It’s unclear when the court will schedule oral arguments.

See here for the background. We expected this, and Rick Hasen called it the day before it happened. One way or another, we’ll finally get to a resolution, in time for one last election before we start the cycle anew. When the first lawsuits were filed, I figured we’d have new maps in place for 2016, based on how things went after the 2001/2003 redraw. Shows how much I know, or maybe things really are that much different. Strap in and hold on, it’s going to be a consequential term at SCOTUS. Mother Jones, ThinkProgress, the Chron, Hasen again, and the Lone Star Project have more.

Yet another ruling against North Carolina’s Congressional map

Because redistricting litigation is always of interest.

A panel of federal judges struck down North Carolina’s congressional map on Tuesday, condemning it as unconstitutional because Republicans had drawn the map seeking a political advantage.

The ruling was the first time that a federal court had blocked a congressional map because of a partisan gerrymander, and it instantly endangered Republican seats in the coming elections.

Judge James A. Wynn Jr., in a biting 191-page opinion, said that Republicans in North Carolina’s Legislature had been “motivated by invidious partisan intent” as they carried out their obligation in 2016 to divide the state into 13 congressional districts, 10 of which are held by Republicans. The result, Judge Wynn wrote, violated the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection.

The ruling and its chief demand — that the Republican-dominated Legislature create a new landscape of congressional districts by Jan. 24 — infused new turmoil into the political chaos that has in recent years enveloped North Carolina. President Trump carried North Carolina in 2016, but the state elected a Democrat as its governor on the same day and in 2008 supported President Barack Obama.

[…]

The ruling left little doubt about how the judges assessed the Legislature’s most recent map. Judge Wynn, who sits on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit and was a member of a special panel considering the congressional map, said that “a wealth of evidence proves the General Assembly’s intent to ‘subordinate’ the interests of non-Republican voters and ‘entrench’ Republican domination of the state’s congressional delegation.”

Most federal lawsuits are first heard by a district court, and later — if needed — by an appeals court and the Supreme Court. But under federal law, constitutional challenges to the apportionment of House districts or statewide legislative bodies are automatically heard by three-judge panels, and appeals are taken directly to the Supreme Court.

See here and here for some background, and here for a copy of the opinion. As noted, SCOTUS is likely to weigh in on this, and as with Texas that could mean the current map will be left in place until further litigation has concluded. The key takeaway, as Nicholas Stephanopolous notes, is that the judges used a recently-developed system for determining what makes a “partisan” gerrymander too extreme, and it did so without any difficulty. That’s a question that’s already on SCOTUS’ docket. The potential is there for a lot of good to be done, but we’re still a ways away from that happening. ThinkProgress, Mother Jones, the Associated Press, the WaPo, Daily Kos, and Rick Hasen have more.

SCOTUS to consider Texas redistricting case in January

Batten down the hatches.

The U.S. Supreme Court will meet Jan. 5 to consider whether to take up a case on how Texas draws its congressional and statehouse maps.

In a 5-4 decision split along ideological lines in September, the justices blocked two rulings by a three-judge federal panel in San Antonio. The panel had ordered lawmakers to redraw Texas’ congressional and statehouse maps, which the judges said discriminated against minorities in violation of the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act.

The Supreme Court’s involvement is the latest twist in a six-year legal battle that could have a major impact on Texas’ political landscape, including the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

[…]

The plaintiffs wanted the districts redrawn in time for the 2018 midterm elections. But Attorney General Ken Paxton appealed the decision to the Supreme Court and was granted a stay by Justice Samuel Alito, which torpedoed the plaintiffs’ efforts to expedite new maps.

Since then, both sides have started to prepare for the possibility of a showdown at the Supreme Court. The Mexican American Legislative Caucus, one of the lead plaintiffs in the statehouse suit, hired voting rights expert Pamela Karlan to present their case. Karlan is the co-director of the Supreme Court Litigation Clinic at Stanford Law School.

See here, here, and here for the background. You know the stakes, and how long this godforsaken case has taken to even approach some kind of resolution. There are several other big redistricting and gerrymandering cases coming to SCOTUS soon as well, so we could be in for a world of changes, or a world where basically nothing changes. As the man once said, hold onto your butts.

Concerns about the Census

We need to pay attention to this.

Latino leaders are warning of a developing crisis in the 2020 census and demanding that the Census Bureau act aggressively to calm fears in immigrant populations about data misuse.

Citing focus groups and initial interviews in Texas and across the country, the bureau’s Mikelyn Meyers recently reported “an unprecedented groundswell in confidentiality and data sharing concerns” related to the 2020 count.

“We’re concerned that this may present a barrier to participation in the 2020 census,” she said. “And this is particularly troubling due to the disproportionate impact on hard-to-count areas.”

Harris County, which is roughly 42 percent Hispanic, has long been an area of concern for the Census Bureau. Last spring, officials tested new technology in only two counties – Harris and Los Angeles – aimed at improving response rates in hopes of finding solutions before 2020.

More than 1.45 million people live in what are considered “hard-to-count” census tracts in the nine congressional districts that include Harris County, according to U.S. census data analyzed and mapped by the City University of New York’s Center for Urban Research. The researchers counted tracts with response rates below 73 percent in the 2010 census as “hard to count.”

Laura Murillo, president and CEO of the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, noted that the Latino community has historically shied away from participating in census surveys. For the 2010 census, the Houston chamber hosted information sessions and explained that responses assist the government in making decisions about how to spend federal tax dollars.

While Murillo said the chamber is willing to partner with the Census Bureau again, the federal government’s actions on immigration have alienated many Latinos and will make openly sharing information with government officials a hard sell. She cited the Trump administration’s decisions to push for a border wall and end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival program, also known as DACA, as reasons some may find to be wary.

“Trust has been breached,” she said.

Two things to remember. One is that the Census is actually specified in the Constitution, so just on that alone it’s a big deal. Two, in addition to political purposes such as apportioning Congressional districts, businesses and academics and local governments and more rely heavily on the demographic and economic data that the Census provides. We need to get this right, and that means (urk) depending on the Trump administration to not screw it up. You can see why people are raising the alarm.

Rep. Ted Poe to retire

We’re verging on a mass exodus here.

Rep. Ted Poe

U.S. Rep. Ted Poe, R-Humble, announced Tuesday evening that he will retire from Congress.

“Thanks to the good Lord, I’m in good health, but it’s time for the next step,” Poe said in a statement. “I am looking forward to spending more time in Texas, especially with my 12 grandkids who have all been born since I was first elected to Congress. I am proud of the work that my office has accomplished: giving crime victims a voice, helping to combat human trafficking, and fighting for our constitutional rights and individual liberty.”

[…]

The seat has drawn some Democratic challengers, most notably nonprofit executive Todd Litton, who has held his own against Poe in fundraising in recent months.

First elected to Congress in 2004 and a sixth-generation Texan, Poe is possibly the most personally popular Texan within the U.S. House of Representatives.

With fans on both sides of the aisle, that affection came to light in 2016, when he was diagnosed with leukemia. Colleagues like U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land, reacted to the news by wearing orange “Team Poe” wristbands. Even Democrats were known to check in with concern about his health.

Sources close to the congressman said that while the his health is stabilized, the ordeal did cause the 69-year-old to consider more spending time with his family.

But there were also signs of political frustration earlier this year. Amid congressional Republicans’ troubled efforts to move a repeal of former President Obama’s 2010 health care law, Poe resigned from the House Freedom Caucus. The group is known to be a thorn in the side of House leadership.

At the time he resigned from the group in late March, he said, “It is time to lead.”

A quirky but sincere presence around the Capitol, Poe made criminal justice a signature issue. He built his career as a Harris County prosecutor and a criminal court judge. His off-beat and shame-inducing punishments in that role became known as “Poe-tic justice.”

Poe also spent a much of his time on foreign affairs and on immigration. But he is best known to his colleagues as a go-to force on issues like violence against women and human sex trafficking.

First, let me say that I wish Rep. Poe all the best with his fight against leukemia, and that he has a happy and healthy retirement. He joins three of his Republican colleagues –
Sam Johnson, Jeb Hensarling, and Lamar Smith – in calling it a career this cycle. The last election we had where this many new members got elected was 2004, thanks to the DeLay re-redistricting that helped elevate Poe.

CD02 will be favored to be held by the Republicans, but Democrats made some gains there in 2016, and the departure of this generally well-liked incumbent may make holding this district a little tougher for them. First, we have to see who will run on that side; as of last night, there were no names being mentioned as potential candidates. I suspect that the pool of hopefuls is pretty deep, and as such we could have quite the primary race next year. I figure names will start dropping soon, and as filing season opens on Saturday, the rubber will meet the road in short order. How we feel about the future disposition on this district may depend a lot on who comes out of those races. The Chron has more.

October campaign finance reports: Congress

Here are the Q2 fundraising reports for Texas Democratic Congressional candidates. I’ll sum up the data below, but here’s the Trib with some highlights.

After Democratic challengers outraised four Texas Republicans in Congress earlier this year, some Republicans recaptured fundraising momentum in the third quarter – but not all of them.

Campaign finance reports for federal candidates covering July through September were due on Saturday. The reports show signs of of Democratic enthusiasm continuing, though U.S. Reps. Pete Sessions of Dallas and Will Hurd of Helotes, both Republicans, posted strong third quarters.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, barely outpaced his challenger, U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, and two GOP congressmen saw Democratic challengers raise more money.

Hurricane Harvey may have depressed fundraising overall, with many incumbents and challengers posting lukewarm quarterly hauls.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate and certainly not tasteful to raise money from people who’ve been devastated and lost everything,” said U.S. Rep. John Culberson, a Houston Republican who was outraised by two of his Democratic challengers.

Democratic numbers were also smaller, suggesting candidates who announced earlier this year picked off the low-hanging donors in their previous campaign reports. And candidates who entered races only recently had less time to raise money.

But also, there was a larger dynamic at work. Ali Lapp is the operative who oversees the super PAC that supports Democratic House candidates, said donors are holding back from challengers because of the crowded nature of the Democratic primaries.

“With so many good Democratic candidates running in primaries, it’s no surprise that many Democratic donors are waiting to give direct candidate donations until after the field shakes out a bit, or even until after the primary is concluded,” she said.

The Chron focuses in on CD07, which has the largest field and the most money raised so far. We’ve seen the aforementioned dynamic in other races, where some people and groups want to wait and see who the frontrunners or runoff participants are before jumping in. The danger is that the candidate or candidates you like may not then make it into the runoff, but that’s a bit esoteric right now. The fact remains that we haven’t had this level of activity in Democratic Congressional primaries since Dems were the dominant party in the state. That’s pretty cool.

So without further ado, here are links to forms of interest and a summary of who did what:

Todd Litton – CD02
Ali Khorasani – CD02

Jana Sanchez – CD06

Alex Triantaphyllis – CD07
Lizzie Fletcher – CD07
Laura Moser – CD07
Jason Westin – CD07
James Cargas – CD07
Joshua Butler – CD07

Dori Fenenbock – CD16
Veronica Escobar – CD16

Joseph Kopser – CD21
Derrick Crowe – CD21
Elliott McFadden – CD21

Jay Hulings – CD23
Gina Ortiz Jones – CD23

Christopher Perri – CD25
Chetan Panda – CD25

MJ Hegar – CD31
Richard Lester – CD31
Christine Mann – CD31

Ed Meier – CD32
Colin Allred – CD32
Lillian Salerno – CD32

Dayna Steele – CD36
Jonathan Powell – CD36


Dist  Name             Raised    Spent    Loans   On Hand
=========================================================
02    Litton          256,222   26,250        0   229,872
02    Khorasani         8,904    8,555        0       348

06    Sanchez          75,113   56,169        0    16,439

07    Triantaphyllis  668,300  132,792        0   535,507
07    Fletcher        550,833  147,634        0   403,198
07    Moser           401,675  129,689        0   271,986
07    Westin          252,085   95,046   10,365   167,393
07    Cargas           46,752   43,091        0    10,078
07    Butler           28,685   25,352        0     3,332

16    Fenenbock       499,262  193,800  100,000   405,462
16    Escobar         332,836   35,780        0   297,056

21    Kopser          417,669  198,249        0   219,419
21    Crowe            69,443   45,068        0    24,375
21    McFadden         49,614   29,923        0    19,690

23    Hulings         200,207   10,752        0   189,455
23    Ortiz Jones     103,920   30,238        0    73,681

25    Perri            61,868   42,603    7,140    26,405
25    Panda            59,853   42,200        0    17,652

31    Hegar            93,459   39,789        0    53,670
31    Lester           52,569   33,061        0    19,507
31    Mann             21,052    8,764        0         0

32    Meier           585,951  147,537        0   438,414
32    Allred          242,444  180,791   25,000    86,653
32    Salerno         150,608   30,870        0   119,737

36    Steele          105,023   62,699    1,231    43,555
36    Powell           50,653   20,817   10,000    39,789

Notes:

– Unlike other campaign finance reports, the FEC reports are cumulative, which is to say that the numbers you see for Raised and Spent are the totals for the entire cycle. For all the other races we look at, these numbers represent what was raised and spent in the specific period. It’s useful to have these totals, but you have to compare to the previous quarter if you want to know how much a given candidate raised or spent in that quarter.

– There are eight candidates in this summary who were not in the Q2 roundup – Khorasani, Escobar, Hulings, Ortiz Jones, Panda, Hegar, Lester, and Salerno. Christopher Perri filed for CD21 last quarter but is shown in CD25 this quarter. Not sure if one or the other is an error – he wasn’t listed as a candidate in a recent story about CD25 – but do note that Congressional candidates are only required to live in the state, not in a particular district. Debra Kerner had been listed in CD07 before but she has since ended her candidacy.

– Not all candidates in all races are listed. I pick ’em as I see fit.

– It’s really hard to say how much of an effect Harvey may have had on fundraising. As the Trib story notes, it may be that many candidates have largely tapped their easiest sources, and it may be that some donors are keeping their powder dry. We may get some idea when we see the Q4 numbers in January. In the meantime, remember that there’s a long way to go.

– One candidate who does appear to have had a change of fortune, and not for the best, is Colin Allred in CD32. No idea why, again we’ll want to see what the next report looks like.

– Still no candidates of interest in CDs 10, 22, or 24. Sure would be nice to either have someone with juice file, or for someone who is already running to step it up.

Paxton officially appeals redistricting ruling to SCOTUS

Here we go.

Attorney General Ken Paxton asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday to take up an appeal of a lower court ruling that invalidated two of Texas’ congressional districts.

“It’s fitting that the Supreme Court hear this case, given that it ordered the district court in San Antonio to draw the congressional maps in 2012 that were adopted by the Legislature in 2013 and used in the last three election cycles in Texas,” Paxton said in a news release. “The lower court’s decision to invalidate parts of the maps it drew and adopted is inexplicable and indefensible. We’re eager for the high court to take up the case.”

[…]

Immediately after the lower court’s August decision, Paxton appealed the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, which in September sided with Texas and blocked the lower court’s ruling until it could fully consider the case. That ruling allowed the state to keep intact its electoral maps through the 2018 elections, a major defeat for the plaintiffs, who had hoped for a more advantageous political landscape during the midterm elections.

Now Paxton is asking the court to settle the issue once and for all. The lower court ruling also invalidated nine statehouse districts. Paxton said he will ask the Supreme Court to take up that question, too.

See here, here, and here for some background. This was where things were always headed, so now it’s just a matter of time. Not in time for 2018, of course, but it’s something, I suppose. Well, not for everyone.

Juanita Wallace was among many voters of color who sued the state over its redistricting plans in 2011, accusing lawmakers of redrawing its political boundaries in a way that diluted the power of black and Latino Texans.

Six years later, several elections have played out using embattled state House and congressional maps, even though federal judges so far ruled that Texas leaders intentionally discriminated in approving the boundaries. And the maps will probably stay in place for the 2018 elections as the U.S. Supreme Court weighs the state’s latest appeal.

Wallace — a longtime educator, civil rights advocate and former head of the Dallas NAACP — won’t be around to see the result. She died of cancer last year at age 70.

“To me, it gets to this question of how do you fight back against this,” said Allison Riggs, who represented Wallace as the senior voting rights attorney with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. “You want to give this complicated legal analysis a human side, but you’re literally dragging the litigation so long that people are passing away. It’s nuts.”

You know what they say about justice delayed. See the brief filed by the state for more.

Pasadena City Council approves settlement in redistricting case

It’s over.

The Pasadena City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to approve a $1.1 million settlement agreement of a lawsuit challenging a city voting plan that a federal judge found diluted Latino voting influence.

Councilman Cody Ray Wheeler said that after four years of litigation and $3.5 million in legal fees he was glad to see the appeal come to an end.

“It all started out as a power grab that has now run its course,” Wheeler said. “In addition to the financial hit, the lawsuit gave the city a black eye in the national spotlight. It cost us progress and it cost us time.”

Councilman Phil Cayten said he would vote to end the lawsuit to save money even though he thought the city could have prevailed on appeal.

“I think the three more conservative judges of the appeal court would rule in favor of the City of Pasadena,” said Cayten, who apologized to constituents who favored continuing the appeal. “Let me just say that I believe in my heart that the City of Pasadena did not violate the Voting Rights Act or adopt a discriminatory election system.”

The settlement, recommended by new Mayor Jeff Wagner, calls for the city to pay for the plaintiffs’ legal fees and court costs, and to drop its appeal of U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal’s ruling regarding the 2013 council election system.

See here for the background. One of the consequences of this is that Pasadena is will be put under preclearance for six years, meaning that any changes they make to district lines or other election procedures will have to be approved before they can be implemented. The Trib explores this aspect of the settlement.

The local voting rights squabble had caught the attention of voting rights advocates and legal observers nationwide as some looked to it as a possible test case of whether the Voting Rights Act still serves as a safeguard for voters of color. The local voting rights squabble had caught the attention of voting rights advocates and legal observers nationwide as some looked to it as a possible test case of whether the Voting Rights Act still serves as a safeguard for voters of color.

As things stand now, the dispute won’t set broader precedent across Texas or beyond state lines. But in a state embroiled in court-determined voting rights violations on several fronts, the federal guardianship of Pasadena’s elections is meaningful, particularly following the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 finding that conditions for voters of color had “dramatically improved.”

“I think it’s significant that in 2017 we have a trial court finding of intentional racial discrimination by a city in Texas and that the drastic remedy of preclearance has been successfully imposed,” said Rick Hasen, a professor at the University of California, Irvine’s law school who specializes in election law. “The Pasadena ruling indicates that in some places racial discrimination in voting is very much a thing of the present.”

[…]

Rosenthal’s ruling was decisive for voting rights litigation playing out after that ruling, and the city’s move to drop its appeal and let the ruling stand sets up the possibility that Pasadena’s voting rights fight could play an outsized role in other court battles.

In 2013, the Supreme Court left open the possibility that political jurisdictions could be placed back under preclearance — through the Voting Rights Act’s “bail-in” provision — if they committed new discriminatory actions. Rosenthal set a possible standard that other courts can look to in deciding whether to bail in other jurisdictions, legal experts observed.

“It’s one more black mark against Texas” that could help in other voting rights litigation, said Richard Murray, a political science professor at the University of Houston who has studied voting rights cases for decades.

Pasadena’s vote to settle the case is likely to disappoint state leaders who had already filed an amicus brief in support of the city’s appeal that warned of “unwarranted federal intrusion.” State attorneys had deemed Rosenthal’s preclearance ruling improper because it was imposed for a single incident of discrimination instead of pervasive and rampant discrimination.

See here for more on that. I don’t know what if any precedent Pasadena will set, but I’d rather have this outcome going forward than the alternative.

SCOTUS takes up partisan gerrymandering

So much coverage on this potentially ground-breaking and earth-shaking case. Here’s the Washington Post:

Opponents of political gerrymandering had reason for optimism at the Supreme Court on Tuesday, with Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, the likely swing vote, appearing more in sync with liberal colleagues who seemed convinced that a legislative map can be so infected with political bias that it violates the Constitution.

But it’s what Kennedy didn’t say that could determine whether the court, for the first time, strikes down a legislative map because of extreme partisan gerrymandering. While he has previously expressed concerns about the political mapmaking practice, he has yet to endorse a way of determining when gerrymandering is excessive, and Kennedy give no sign at oral arguments Tuesday that he had found one.

In a case from Wisconsin that could reshape the way American elections are conducted, the Supreme Court heard from challengers that it was the “only institution in the United States” that could prevent a coming wave of extreme partisan gerrymandering that would distort the basic structure of democracy.

“Politicians are never going to fix gerrymandering,” said Paul M. Smith, representing Democratic voters who challenged a 2011 redistricting plan drawn by Wisconsin’s ruling Republicans. “They like gerrymandering.”

Even conservative justices skeptical of Smith’s argument seemed to agree that it was unsavory for members of the party in power to draw legislative districts to protect themselves and their own, and make it hard for opponents to ever gain power.

“Gerrymandering is distasteful,” said Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. “But if we are going to impose a standard on the courts, it has to be something that’s manageable.”

Finding a test that courts could use to determine when political favoritism had become too great — the “Rosetta Stone,” Alito called it — has always been the hurdle. Kennedy said as much the last time the court examined the issue, in 2004.

If anything, Kennedy seemed more convinced this time around that the courts have a role in finding that partisan gerrymandering can be so extreme as to be unconstitutional.

He pressed lawyers for the state and its legislative leaders about whether it would be unconstitutional for a state to undertake the redistricting process by forthrightly saying it intended to favor one party over another.

Erin Murphy, representing the legislative leaders, hesitated and said that was not the case in Wisconsin.

Kennedy was undeterred. “I’d like the answer to the question,” he said.

Murphy and the state’s lawyer, Solicitor General Misha Tseytlin, agreed that would be unconstitutional.

See here, here, and here for some background. Basically all the coverage was focused on Justice Kennedy, who is not only our supreme overlord the main swing vote in the chamber but also who had suggested that a partisan gerrymander could be illegal if there were a good, objective standard to determine it. That’s what this case is about, and it seems likely that if this isn’t where he draws a line, there isn’t a line he’ll be willing to draw. This case is about Wisconsin, but if SCOTUS sides with the plaintiffs it would surely have a broad impact, as many other purple or even blue states – Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina – have similarly extreme gerrymanders in them. We’ll know by the spring. SCOTUSBlog, the NYT, Rick Hasen, Ari Berman, Kevin Drum, Mark Joseph Stern, Dahlia Lithwick, and ThinkProgress have more.

Pasadena will settle voting rights case

Excellent news.

Pasadena Mayor Jeff Wagner on Friday asked the City Council to settle a voting rights lawsuit that led to national portrayals of the Houston suburb as an example of efforts to suppress Latino voting rights.

The proposed settlement with Latino residents who sued the city in 2014 over a new City Council district system calls for the city to pay $900,000 for the plaintiffs’ legal fees and $197,341 for court costs. The item will be on Tuesday’s City Council agenda.

“While I strongly believe that the city did not violate the Voting Rights Act or adopt a discriminatory election system,” Wagner said in a statement, “I think it’s in the best interest of the city to get this suit behind us.”

[…]

Approval of the settlement would end the city’s appeal of Rosenthal’s January ruling that the new council system intentionally diluted Latino voting strength. Voters approved the new system, which added two at-large council positions and removed two district seats, in a 2013 charter change election initiated by the former mayor.

Rosenthal ordered the city to use the previous system of eight district positions in the city elections last May. The city has paid more than $2 million to attorneys for the trial and appeal.

See here, here, and here for the background. This was a big decision to make – Pasadena could possibly have prevailed in the lawsuit, in which case they would not have owed the plaintiffs’ attorneys or the courts any money. That came at significant risk, as they would have had to spend a lot more on their own attorneys to see this all the way through, and would have owed a lot more if they had lost in the end. And then there was the whole matter of justice, which didn’t mean anything to the last Mayor but which thankfully seems to mean something to this one. All in all, this was very much the right thing to do. Council still has to approve it, but that should not be a problem. Well done, Mayor Wagner. Rick Hasen has more.

Don’t expect any further redistricting activity this year

Michael Li explains it all to you.

In one-line orders today (here and here), the Supreme Court rejected a request by plaintiffs in the Texas redistricting case that the Supreme Court expedite appeals by the State of Texas.

The plaintiffs’ requests would have sped up the cases by having the parties forgo the filing of jurisdiction statements (essentially skipping one step in the process) and setting an expedited briefing schedule. This would have allowed the high court to consider whether to take the cases at its January 5, 2018 conference.

The denial of the plaintiffs’ requests means that Texas will have until October 17 and 27 to file jurisdiction statements on the congressional and state house rulings respectively. The plaintiffs then will have up to 30 days to ask the court to dismiss the appeals or summarily affirm (though they could file early to try to expedite the timeline). The state then will have 14 days to file a reply.

See here for the background. As Li notes, in addition to the state’s appeal of the order that new maps be drawn, the plaintiffs have their own appeal of issues where they lost in court as well. There are many filings to be made, and the state has no incentive to be prompt about any of theirs. As such, while everything could be teed up for the Court in January, it’s unlikely that will happen. So settle in, this will once again take awhile. The Statesman has more.

SCOTUS puts new maps on hold

Ugh.

The U.S. Supreme Court has dealt a serious setback to those hoping Texas would see new congressional and House district maps ahead of the 2018 elections.

In separate orders issued Tuesday, the high court blocked two lower court rulings that invalidated parts of those maps where lawmakers were found to have discriminated against voters of color. The justices’ 5-4 decisions stay the rulings — which would have required new maps — as they take up an appeal from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan dissented from the majority opinion.

[…]

The state argued in a legal brief that if the Supreme Court allowed the redrawing of the state’s proposed maps to move forward ahead of the election, the court risked throwing “the Texas election deadlines into chaos for the second time this decade.”

Election administrators have said they need clarity on district boundaries by October to meet timelines to prepare and send out voter registration certificates and avoid electoral delays.

Minority rights groups suing the state rebutted those claims, arguing that “the right to legal districts prevails” when choosing between delaying electoral deadlines and addressing “voters’ ongoing harm” under the current maps.

In siding with the state, the high court made it more likely that Texas will use its current maps in the upcoming elections. The high court could also choose to delay the March primary elections. Its decision is likely months away.

See here and here for the background. At this point, we’re either going to get the same maps as before for 2018, or we’re going to have a (possibly much) later primary. I suspect the former is more likely, which shows the power of having Section 5 (preclearance) of the Voting Rights Act versus not having it: Even if SCOTUS ultimately agrees with the lower court, the state will have gotten to use these illegal maps in four out of the five elections from the 2011 redistricting cycle. The consequences for breaking the law will be next to nothing. Under those circumstances, who wouldn’t take advantage?

The plaintiffs are keeping a stiff upper lip:

“I can’t say that I am pleased with this. I can’t say that I am surprised either,” said Jose Garza, counsel to the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit. “At the end of the day it may all work out. Maybe it’s better to have this discriminatory plan in front of the court and have the state of Texas try to defend it sooner rather than later.”

[…]

Chad Dunn, the Texas Democratic Party’s general counsel, said he believes the evidence of discriminatory intent is so strong, the Supreme Court will agree.

“Getting a final resolution to this matter, that has essentially been pending since 2011, is a step in the right direction,” he said.

I hope you’re right, but it’s a little hard to feel positive about it right now.

ThinkProgress points out the elephant in the room:

It is likely that, if Senate Republicans had not held a seat on the Supreme Court open for more than a year until a Republican president could fill it, that this stay would not have been granted, and the 2018 election would be run under different maps.

It took that fifth vote on SCOTUS for this to happen. Let that sink in for a minute. Eyes on the prize, y’all. Rick Hasen, the Lone Star Project, the DMN, Mother Jones, Daily Kos, Michael Li, the Current, and the Observer have more.

Plaintiffs ask SCOTUS to back down in redistricting fight

This week’s update:

The challengers told the justices that the Supreme Court lacks the power to review the state’s request because there is nothing to put on hold: The lower court has neither blocked the state’s current redistricting plan nor entered any orders to remedy the violations it found. Instead, the challengers emphasized, the lower court simply directed the two sides to show up for a hearing today to come up with a new plan. If the lower court had held the hearing and then entered an order, the challengers explained, Texas could have asked the Supreme Court to step in – but it cannot do so now.

The challengers also dispute any suggestion that if the justices do not intervene now, the district court might impose its own map, which the state will not have time to appeal before the October 1 deadline by which the congressional maps must be in place for next year’s elections. Any “deadline” is purely self-imposed, they say: “This alleged ‘deadline’ is simply the date that Texas claims is required to permit local officials two months’ time to coordinate with third-party vendors to print and mail voter registration certificate cards.” And in any event, they add, there is no reason to believe that the court would both decide to review the dispute and reverse the lower court’s judgment – a key criterion in deciding whether to put a lower court’s ruling on hold. The challengers conclude by pleading with the court not to “countenance Texas’s attempts to introduce further delay and multiply the proceedings in this Court in an attempt to run out the clock.”

See here for the background, and here for the plaintiffs’ filing. Plaintiffs also went and filed some proposed remedial maps, which is what we would have been talking about in this case had Justice Alito not called a timeout. Michael Li has links to those maps. There was also supposed to be a response to the same ruling from the State House case as well, but I have not seen any reporting on it. In any event, the expectation seems to be that a ruling from the full Court will come next week or so. Let’s hope we can get this show on the road. The Statesman and KUHF have more.

State House map paused as well

Not a surprise, given the previous order.

A lower court ruling that invalidated parts of the Texas House state map has been temporarily blocked by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Responding swiftly to an appeal by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, Justice Samuel Alito on Thursday signed an order to put on hold a three-judge panel’s unanimous ruling that nine Texas legislative districts needed to be redrawn because lawmakers intentionally discriminated against minorities in crafting them. Alito directed the minority rights groups suing the state to file a response to the state’s appeal by Sept. 7.

The lower court’s ruling could affect nine House districts across Dallas, Nueces, Bell and Tarrant counties. But adjusting those boundaries could have a ripple effect on neighboring districts.

The move comes days after Alito also temporarily put on hold a lower court ruling that invalidated two of Texas’ 36 congressional districts and instructed the minority rights group suing the state to file a response to the state’s appeal of that ruling. Responses from the state’s legal foes on that map are due Tuesday.

See here for the background. We are in wait-and-see mode right now. The same variables – which maps do we use, and when will the primaries be – remain in question. If we don’t have a definitive answer to #1 by the end of October, the answer to #2 will not be “March”. Stay tuned.