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redistricting

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.

SCOTUS puts a pause on the Congressional redistricting ruling

Hopefully, just a temporary one.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday put on hold a lower court ruling that invalidated two of Texas’ 36 congressional districts.

In an order signed by Justice Samuel Alito, the high court indicated it wanted to hear from the minority groups suing the state before the state’s appeal of that ruling moves forward. The high court ordered the state’s legal foes to file a response by Sept. 5 to the state’s efforts to keep congressional district boundaries intact for the 2018 elections.

[…]

Texas and the minority rights groups suing the state were scheduled to return to court in San Antonio on Sept. 5 to fight over a new map. On Monday, the San Antonio three-judge panel advised that the Supreme Court’s order did not prohibit the state and minority groups from “voluntarily exchanging” proposed fixes. A clerk indicated the court would confirm on Tuesday whether the hearing would move forward.

Separately, Texas is defending its state House map, which the same San Antonio panel partially invalidated last week because of intentional discrimination behind the crafting of several legislative districts.

The court had indicated that lawmakers should be prepared to also meet on Sept. 6 to consider changes to the state House map. But Paxton also plans to appeal that ruling, which said nine districts must be redrawn.

See here, here, and here for some background. Assuming those hearings do go forward, I’ll be very interested to see what the state brings to them. Their contention is that the 2013 maps were just fine, so it might undermine that position to propose an alternative, even if under the gun. The plaintiffs have already put forward a variety of maps, it’s more a matter of what they narrow it all down to for them. As for the SCOTUS order, Rick Hasen says not to read too much into it, so I will continue to worry about other thing instead. Stay tuned.

Will we have maps in time for March primaries?

Maybe. It’s up to the courts.

State officials insisted Friday they expect to stop the court challenges on appeal, and reverse Texas’ losing streak on the voting-rights lawsuits, legal experts predicted Texas could end up back under federal supervisions of its elections rules if the appeals fail.

In short, the court fight is shaping up as a political game of chicken, with significant consequences no matter how it turns out.

“In both of the cases where there are new decisions, the courts have ruled that Texas has purposefully maintained ‘intentional discrimination’ in the way it drew its maps,” said Michael Li, an expert on Texas redistricting who is senior counsel with the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.

“That’s an important finding that could result in Texas being placed back under pre-clearance coverage. Based on that, there may be a good chance that could happen.”

[…]

On Friday, Paxton asked the Supreme Court to overturn the lower-court decision on Texas’ congressional maps. “We are confident that the Supreme Court will allow Texas to continue to use the maps used in the last three election cycles,” he said.

Even so, until that appeal is decided, “we don’t expect or anticipate any delay in the Texas election schedule,” said Marc Rylander, Paxton’s communications director.

Li and other legal experts are not so sure.

First, an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Thursday’s ruling by the three-judge panel will almost certainly not be decided until after the filing period in November and December for House seats is over.

And if appellate court rulings in other cases go against the state, the schedule could be upended by court orders to redraw political boundaries for candidates running in those elections. And any boundary changes to benefit blacks and Hispanics could mean gains for Democrats, who those groups traditionally vote for.

“There’s a good chance that, given the way these cases stand with the courts, that the primary election schedule could be affected,” Li said.

The state had previously announced its intention to appeal the Congressional map; you can see a copy of their brief here. I presume an appeal of the State House ruling will ensue. As far as next year’s primaries go, basically one of two things will happen. Either SCOTUS will step in and say that the current maps will remain in place until the appeals process has played out, or it won’t. In that case, new maps need to be drawn. The court will have hearings right after Labor Day to determine a schedule for hearings and whatnot in the event there is no halt from SCOTUS and Greg Abbott declines to call a special session and have the Lege draw compliant maps. Whether it’s the court (most likely) or the Lege, it needs to be done by roughly the end of October so election officials can provide maps and files to county party chairs and interested candidates in time for the normal November-December filing period. There are people who are going to make run/don’t run decisions based on what those maps look like. There’s a decent chance we wind up with later primaries next year – perhaps May, as we had in 2012 – but it’s not certain yet. We should be in a better position to know by the end of the first week of September.

Court throws out State House map

Once more, with feeling.

Parts of the Texas House map must be redrawn ahead of the 2018 elections because lawmakers intentionally discriminated against minorities in crafting several legislative districts, federal judges ruled on Thursday.

A three-judge panel in San Antonio unanimously ruled that Texas must address violations that could affect the configuration of House districts in four counties, where lawmakers diluted the strength of voters of color. In some cases, the court found mapdrawers intentionally undercut minority voting power “to ensure Anglo control” of legislative districts.

These are the nine districts the court flagged:

  • Dallas County’s HD 103, represented by Democrat Rafael Anchia, HD 104, represented by Democrat Roberto Alonzo and HD 105, represented by Republican Rodney Anderson
  • Nueces County’s HD 32, represented by Republican Todd Hunter, and HD 34, represented by Democrat Abel Herrero
  • Bell County’s HD 54, represented by Republican Scott Cosper, and HD 55, represented by Republican Hugh Shine
  • Tarrant County’s HD 90, represented by Democrat Ramon Romero, and HD 93 represented by Matt Krause.

Adjusting those boundaries could have a ripple effect on other races.

[…]

In both the congressional and state House rulings, the court ordered Attorney General Ken Paxton to signal whether the Legislature would take up redistricting to fix violations in the maps.

But so far, state leaders have signaled they have no appetite to call lawmakers back to Austin over mapmaking. Instead, Texas is looking to the U.S. Supreme Court to keep its political boundaries intact.

“The judges held that maps they themselves adopted violate the law,” Paxton said in a Thursday statement. “Needless to say, we will appeal.”

Meanwhile, the state and the parties that sued over the congressional districts are scheduled to return to court on Sept. 5 to begin redrawing the congressional map. In its Thursday ruling, the court indicated they should be prepared to also meet on Sept. 6 to consider changes to the state House map.

“Today’s ruling once again found that Texas racially gerrymandered its voting districts and used Latino voters as pawns in doing so,” said Nina Perales, vice president of litigation for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, who is representing plaintiffs in the case. “With the 2018 election cycle fast approaching, it’s time for Texas to stop discriminating against Latino voters and agree to a remedy that will provide equal opportunity to all.”

It was just over a week ago that the same court invalidated the Congressional map, also calling it intentionally discriminatory. Add in the voter ID ruling and you’ve got three such judgments in a span of eight days; you can also toss in the ruling on interpreters for a four-game losing streak for the state. Don’t forget the Pasadena case, too – it’s not the state, but it is another intentional-discrimination opinion. Maybe this will all add up to enough to convince Chief Justice Roberts to change his mind about the state of voting rights and the need to protect communities of color.

Or not. I wouldn’t hold my breath. Be that as it may, this ruling could have an effect on the effort by wingnuts to oust House Speaker Joe Straus. RG Ratcliffe explains.

The court found that in Nueces County, the district maps discriminated in the placement of minority voters in a way that favored the re-election of Representative Todd Hunter, a key Straus Republican ally and chairman of the House committee that sets bills for debate on the daily calendar. To make his district safe, the court said Hispanic voters were packed into the district of Representative Abel Herrero, a Democrat. Redrawing the districts won’t automatically guarantee Hunter’s defeat, but it will make it more difficult for him to win re-election.

The court also ruled that the Legislature intentionally split a minority community in Killeen to guarantee the election of two white Republicans in Districts 54 and 55, Scott Cosper of Killeen and Hugh Shine of Temple. Both have backed Straus in the past. Putting the minority community in Killeen back together probably endangers Cosper’s re-election, and may put a Democrat in that rural district. Either way, this likely is a wash in the politics of electing the next speaker.

In Dallas and Tarrant counties, the court ruling likely would help Straus win re-election. In declaring that five districts in those two counties discriminated against minorities, the most likely losers in any redrawing of the district maps will be Republican Representatives Rodney Anderson of Irving and Matt Krause of Fort Worth. Anderson was among nineteen House members who voted against Straus in one election for speaker, and Krause is a member of the Freedom Caucus, which has been trying to force a speaker vote in the caucus instead of on the House floor, where Democrats also have a say.

Anderson barely squeaked by in 2016, in a district that was ever so slightly bluer than HD107, which flipped to the Dems. He was going to be a target no matter what. The ripple effect in Dallas could be very interesting. And of course, anything that puts jerks like Krause in jeopardy is a good thing. We’ll know if and when SCOTUS intervenes if a second special session will be forthcoming. A statement from MALC is here, and Michael Li, the Chron, the DMN, Rick Hasen, the HuffPost, and the Lone Star Project have more.

Voter ID law thrown out

Fantastic.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

A federal judge has tossed out a new law softening Texas’ strict voter identification requirements.

U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos on Wednesday ruled that Senate Bill 5, signed by Gov. Greg Abbott in June, doesn’t absolve Texas lawmakers from responsibility for discriminating against Latino and black voters when they crafted one of the nation’s strictest voter ID laws in 2011. The judge also ruled that the state failed to prove that the new law would accommodate such voters going forward.

[…]

Minority groups suing the state had asked Ramos to scrap SB 5, saying it still dripped with discrimination — largely because lawmakers did not expand the list of acceptable IDs.

Ramos agreed in her ruling Wednesday.

“SB 5 does not meaningfully expand the types of photo IDs that can qualify, even though the Court was clearly critical of Texas having the most restrictive list in the country,” she wrote. “Not one of the discriminatory features of [the old law] is fully ameliorated by the terms of SB 5.”

SB 5’s process for voters without proper ID, Ramos wrote, “trades one obstacle to voting with another—replacing the lack of qualified photo ID with an overreaching affidavit threatening severe penalties for perjury.”

The ruling also said Texas couldn’t be trusted to educate voters about changes to its ID law, following its widely criticized efforts ahead of elections in 2016 that were marked by confusion at the polls. She noted that Texas has claimed to spend $4 million on voter education before the 2018 elections, “but this stipulation is not part of SB 5 or any other statute.”

See here for the most recent update, and here for a copy of Judge Ramos’ order. Rick Hasen explains what this means.

To simplify things just a bit, when the district court first looked at this case, it determined that Texas’s voter ID law had a racially discriminatory effect, violating Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, as well as a racially discriminatory purpose, violating the VRA and the 14th and 15th Amendment of the Constitution. When the case reached the Fifth Circuit on appeal, a sharply divided court sitting en banc (all of the 5th Circuit judges) agreed that the law violated Section 2 given its racially discriminatory effect. But the judges also held that the trial court had to reconsider the question of racially discriminatory purpose, because the court considered some evidence it should not have in evaluating purpose. The Supreme Court did not take a further appeal, with Chief Justice Roberts issuing a separate statement saying that the case was not really final enough to merit Supreme Court review.

For two reasons, it matters whether the courts find discriminatory purpose in addition to discriminatory effect. When there is just a discriminatory effect, the remedy is much narrower. In this case, the interim remedy was to tinker with the voter id law, such as allowing voters to file an affidavit explaining why they lack the necessary ID signed under penalty of perjury. With a finding of purpose, however, the entire law could (and today was) thrown out. Second, a finding of intentional discrimination can be the basis, under section 3c of the Voting Rights Act, to put Texas back under the preclearance provisions of the Voting Rights Act for up to 10 years, at the court’s discretion. The court has scheduled further briefing on the section 3c issue for the end of the month.

Today the court reaffirmed the discriminatory purpose finding, and held that the tweaks Texas made to its voter id law in a recent session did not solve the problem of discriminatory purpose. In some ways Texas made things worse. The affidavit requirement, for example, could intimidate voters given that many sections open up voters to prosecutions for felony perjury. The Court also noted that the new law did not include any money for voter education, which the court found crucial to a fairly applied voter id law.

As Hasen notes, the state will surely appeal, and unlike the redistricting case that will go to the Fifth Circuit, probably to an en banc panel. The key question there will be whether they put Judge Ramos’ ruling on hold and allow the SB5 version of voter ID to remain in effect during the appeals process or not. Ultimately, this ruling as well as any determination that Texas needs to be put back under preclearance, will go to SCOTUS. We’re still a ways off from that, but do remember that discriminatory intent was also found in the redistricting case, so there are two possible causes for a return to preclearance. I’ll say again, the state is on quite the losing streak with voting rights litigation. Being put back under preclearance would be richly deserved. Oh, and both parties will be back in court on the 31st to set a schedule for briefings and hearings on the preclearance question. I can hardly wait. A statement from MALC is here, and the Statesman, the Associated Press, Mother Jones, the DMN, Daily Kos, the Current, ThinkProgress, Vice News, and the Lone Star Project have more.

We could get a special session on redistricting

At least, that’s what State Sen. Dawn Buckingham thinks.

Sen. Dawn Buckingham

State Sen. Dawn Buckingham, R-Lakeway, expects the Legislature to be called back for another special session — this time to tackle the state’s congressional map.

Monday evening at the Central Texas Tea Party’s monthly meeting, Buckingham discussed federal judges invalidating two Texas congressional districts and the recently concluded special legislative session.

[…]

Whether Gov. Greg Abbott calls another special session hinges on the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling, Buckingham said.

If the nation’s highest court upholds the lower ruling then the Legislature will be back to address the map, the senator added. And it’s a very sensitive issue, too, she said.

“When you touch one, it touches the line next to it and it touches the line next to it,” Buckingham said. “You’re touching a lot of lines when you’re doing that.”

On top of the congressional districts, Buckingham thinks state House districts will get swept into a possible redrawing. Legal challenges to the state House map were not addressed by the federal judges, the Tribune reported.

“I’m guessing we’re heading back for that,” the first-term senator said, adding it’s up to Abbott to call a special session and what lawmakers will legislate. “He’s in charge of specials. He can call them when he wants them.”

See here and here for the background. The three-judge panel has denied the state’s motion to stay its ruling pending appeal, so if SCOTUS declines to intervene at this time then we are getting new maps, whether Lege-drawn or court-drawn. I don’t know how much of what Buckingham says is based on speculation, but this scenario makes sense, especially if the State House map is thrown out as well. All eyes on SCOTUS, y’all. Via Bud Kennedy on Facebook.

Texas to appeal redistricting ruling

Here we go.

If Gov. Greg Abbott calls a second special legislative session this summer, it won’t be for redistricting.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton revealed Friday that Abbott won’t ask lawmakers to redraw the state’s congressional map — found by a federal court this week to discriminate against Latino and black voters — in a fresh round of legislative overtime.

Instead, Paxton is appealing the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court and trying to keep the boundaries intact for the 2018 elections, according to his filings to a panel of three judges in San Antonio.

[…]

In his filings Friday, Paxton revealed a state plan to wriggle free of any consequences ahead of the 2018 elections. While asking the Supreme Court to overturn the lower court’s ruling that Texas intentionally discriminated against minority voters — the fourth such federal ruling this year — Paxton also requested an injunction that would protect Texas from needing a new map.

Barring a Supreme Court order, the San Antonio judges would approve new boundaries.

“Judges should get out of the business of drawing maps,” Paxton said in a statement. “We firmly believe that the maps Texas used in the last three election cycles are lawful, and we will aggressively defend the maps on all fronts.”

See here for the background. The state is playing for all the marbles here – if they don’t get a stay, and Rick Hasen thinks SCOTUS may not care to get involved at this time, then it will indeed being judges drawing the maps. The upside for the state is they get to keep the current maps, and then maybe get the discriminatory intent ruling(s) overturned down the line. The downside is judge-drawn maps, possibly delayed primaries for this year, and a return engagement with preclearance, which could extend into the next Presidential administration. No big deal, right? I’m sure the plaintiffs will contest the motion for a stay, so now we wait and see what SCOTUS chooses to do. In the meantime, assuming SCOTUS hasn’t put up a stop sign before then, everyone heads back to court on September 5 to fight over what new maps should look like. Michael Li and the DMN have more.

(On a side note, Li quotes from the state’s motion in which they say one reason why they will not call a special session to consider drawing new maps is because there wouldn’t be time to “hold protracted hearings involving interest groups”. Which is pretty frigging funny considering that they didn’t bother holding any hearings when they drew the current maps. Do you think Ken Paxton ever had shame, or do you think he had it surgically removed at some point?)

Let’s play two?

Oh, God, please, no.

Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday put blame on the House — particularly Speaker Joe Straus — for the shortcomings of the special session and left the door open to calling another one.

“I’m disappointed that all 20 items that I put on the agenda did not receive the up-or-down vote that I wanted but more importantly that the constituents of these members deserved,” Abbott said in a KTRH radio interview. “They had plenty of time to consider all of these items, and the voters of the state of Texas deserved to know where their legislators stood on these issues.”

The comments came the morning after lawmakers closed out the special session without taking action on Abbott’s No. 1 issue, property tax reform. Abbott ended up seeing legislation get sent to his desk that addressed half his agenda.

As the Senate prepared to adjourn Tuesday night, some senators said they wanted Abbott to call them back for another special session on property taxes. Asked about that possibility Wednesday, the governor said “all options are always on the table.”

“There is a deep divide between the House and Senate on these important issues,” Abbott said in the interview. “So I’m going to be making decisions later on about whether we call another special session, but in the meantime, what we must do is we need to all work to get more support for these priorities and to eliminate or try to dissolve the difference between the House and the Senate on these issues so we can get at a minimum an up-or-down vote on these issues or to pass it.”

In the interview, Abbott contrasted the House with the Senate, which moved quickly to pass all but two items on his agenda. The lower chamber started the special session by “dilly-dallying,” Abbott said, and focused on issues that had “nothing to do whatsoever” with his call.

Asked if he assigned blame to Straus, a San Antonio Republican, Abbott replied, “Well, of course.”

Such big talk from such a weak leader. I suspect there won’t be that much appetite for another special session (*), with the preferred strategy being to attack Straus and get the 2018 primaries up and running. Failure to pass certain bills is often as big a victory for the zealots as success is. Everyone has their talking points for the primaries, so why waste more time in Austin when you can be out raising funds?

(*) The one thing that might make House members want to come back is a court order to redraw the House map. Everyone will be keenly interested in that, especially if some districts are declared illegal. They’ll not want to leave that up to the court, so if it comes down to it, expect there to be pressure for a special session to come up with a compliant map.

Court invalidates CDs 27 and 35

We are one step closer to having a new Congressional map.

Federal judges have invalidated two Texas congressional districts, ruling that they must be fixed by either the Legislature or a federal court.

In a unanimous decision Tuesday, a three-judge panel in San Antonio ruled that Congressional Districts 27 and 35 violate the U.S. Constitution and the federal Voting Rights Act. The judges found that Hispanic voters in Congressional District 27, represented by U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi, were “intentionally deprived of their opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice.” Congressional District 35 — a Central Texas district represented by Democrat Lloyd Doggett of Austin — was deemed “an impermissible racial gerrymander” because mapdrawers illegally used race as the predominant factor in drawing it without a compelling state interest, the judges wrote.

The 107-page ruling — the latest chapter of a six-year court battle over how Texas lawmakers drew political maps — sets up a scramble to redraw the districts in time for the 2018 elections.

The court ordered the Texas Attorney General’s Office to indicate within three business days whether the Texas Legislature would take up redistricting to fix those violations. Otherwise, the state and its legal foes will head back to court on Sept. 5 to begin re-drawing the congressional map — which could shake up other congressional races when the boundaries are changed.

Here is a copy of the ruling, which was unanimous. Michael Li breaks down what this means.

* TX-27 (Farenthold) and TX-35 (Doggett) need to be redrawn – but we knew that already because the court found earlier this year that the configuration of the districts in the 2011 plan was unconstitutional and the 2013 plan made no changes to those districts.

* No further changes need to be made to TX-23 (Hurd) in light of the changes made by the court in the interim plan that then became the 2013 plan. (It is possible there still could be some changes in the Bear County portions of TX-23 as a result of the dismantling of TX-35 but nothing is required).

* No new opportunity district needs to be created in either the Dallas-Fort Worth area. The court’s ruling finds that claims under section 2 of the Voting Rights Act fail because African-Americans and Latinos are not politically cohesive and that any intentional discrimination was adequately remedied by the interim plan/2013 plan as a result of the creation of TX-33 (Veasey).

* No new section 2 district needs to be created in Harris County because African-Americans and Latinos are not politically cohesive.

* BIG FINDING: The court held that the 2013 plan, like the 2011 plan, was intentionally discriminatory. This ruling will play an important role when it comes time for the court to consider whether to put Texas back under preclearance coverage under section 3 of the Voting Rights Act.

From my layman’s perspective, this is a pretty good ruling for the state. CD23 remains intact (though it could be affected by the redrawing of the other two districts), and no new minority opportunity districts need be drawn. The ruling of intent to discriminate is the killer for them, though, as it could mean being put back under preclearance. All things considered, I figure this moves two seats to the Dems, with CD23 remaining a tossup. I suppose Greg Abbott could call another special session to draw a compliant map – they may need another one for the State House soon, too – but I don’t expect that. My guess is the state appeals in the hope of pushing the day of reckoning off into the future, if not winning outright. Stay tuned. The DMN, the Chron, and the Lone Star Project have more.

Paxton joins defense of Wisconsin partisan gerrymandering

Of course he does.

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is backing Wisconsin in a high-profile case asking the U.S. Supreme Court whether lawmakers can go too far when drawing political maps to advantage one party.

Paxton, a Republican, filed an amicus brief seeking to protect the status quo in political gerrymandering — redistricting maneuvers that allow controlling parties to bolster their majorities in state Legislatures and Congress even when statewide demographics shift against them.

“Never has the U.S. Supreme Court disallowed a legislative map because of partisan gerrymandering, and it surely can’t find fault with Wisconsin’s, which is lawful, constitutional and follows traditional redistricting principles,” Paxton said in a statement Tuesday.

[…]

It’s unclear how the Wisconsin case could directly affect the pending case in Texas, because of the different timelines and arguments being made. And the Supreme Court must also decide whether it has the jurisdiction to rule in the Wisconsin case, a question it left open in accepting the challenge.

But if the high court ultimately establishes a new limit on the role politics can play in redistricting, it would almost certainly affect map-drawing in Texas going forward and give opponents of Texas’ current maps a new avenue to challenge them.

See here for some background, and here for the Paxton brief. It’s unlikely this case will affect the current one, at least at this time, but it could make a difference of some kind down the line. At this point, anything that legally restricts gerrymandering will hinder the Republicans, though of course some day the shoe may be on the other foot. But for now, the reason why Paxton would want to pitch in is obvious.

Still no word on what Pasadena will do with the redistricting appeal

We’re waiting.

Because the ruling went against the city, Pasadena is required to pay legal costs to attorneys for that group, the Mexican American Legal Defense Education Fund. In addition, the city’s fees to its legal representatives at Bickerstaff, Heath, Delgado and Acosta now total approximately $2.8 million as it pursues the appeal.

[…]

The council voted 5-3 on Aug. 1 to pay $45,585 to the Bickerstaff firm, bringing the total paid in legal fees over the last six months to the firm to more than $320,000. The city paid more than $2.5 million before the ruling.

At the Aug. 1 meeting, Councilman Don Harrison broached the topic of a settlement regarding MALDEF’s legal expenses.

“I understand through sources there are negotiations going on with MALDEF, who has requested $1.6 million to settle the lawsuit. We’ve had an executive session to discuss this, and yet we’re still continuing with the appeal,” said Harrison, who joined Sammy Casados and Cody Ray Wheeler in voting against approving the latest payment. “It’s time to settle this matter with MALDEF and get this lawsuit over.”

“We’re working everything we can, and once we get these numbers for sure we will have a council meeting to discuss this,” [Mayor Jeff] Wagner said.

See here for some background. The calculation is that if Pasadena eventually wins the appeal, they only have to pay their own lawyers and won’t owe the plaintiffs’ attorneys a dime. But if they lose, they will not only have paid their own lawyers that much more to keep on this, they’ll also owe attorneys’ fees for the plaintiffs, which will undoubtedly be a lot higher than the $1.6 million they’re apparently offering to take now. It’s almost as if that 2013 redistricting scheme pushed through by former Mayor Johnny Isbell was a really lousy idea that has served to put the city in such a terrible position today. Hindsight, y’all.

How the redistricting case could play out

Michael Li games out how the Texas redistricting litigation may go from the anticipated court ruling to final resolution.

So, in short, Texans could end up with a new set of maps (drawn by the Texas Legislature or drawn by the court or drawn by the legislature and then tweaked/modified by the court). Or the whole process could be put on hold [until] the Supreme Court rules on whether there are underlying violations that require redrawing of the maps.

In any event, maps may not be final until early 2018. That would mean, at a minimum, that candidate filing deadlines for state house and congressional races will be moved (and potentially much angst for those thinking about running for those offices). Depending on how long it takes for the Supreme Court to rule, it is possible that the entire March 2018 Texas primary might have to be moved or, in the alternative, that the primary might be held in two parts – one part for congressional and state house races and one part for everything else).

I jumped ahead to the conclusion in Li’s piece. Go read the whole thing to see how he arrived there. Along the way, he cited this Upshot post about possible outcomes in the Congressional map.

Texas’ defense seems simple. How could it have discriminated in adopting a court-drawn map? The problem: Two of the districts found to be in violation in the April ruling were unchanged on the court-drawn map.

Short of victory, the best case for Texas Republicans might be a ruling confined to those two districts. It would probably cost them one seat in the Austin area, most likely the one belonging to Roger Williams.

But the challenge is far wider.

A third district was found to be in violation in April; it was altered on the temporary map, but only slightly. That district belongs to Will Hurd, already one of the most vulnerable Republicans in the country. He won both of his elections by the margin of the high-turnout Republican suburbs of San Antonio, which were said to dilute the power of the district’s low-turnout Hispanic majority. Without those high-turnout Republican suburbs, Mr. Hurd’s re-election chances would look bleak, especially in what is already shaping up as a tough year for Republicans.

The April decision also left open the possibility that Texas might be required to draw an additional minority opportunity district — where the goal is to give racial or ethnic minorities the sway to elect the candidate of their choice — in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. If that happened, a Republican seat would need to be sacrificed here as well, most likely Joe Barton or Kenny Marchant, or perhaps the district held by Sam Johnson, who is not going to seek re-election.

What would “Armageddon” look like? Well, the likeliest version is the possibility that such changes to a few districts ripple across the map, endangering additional Republican incumbents.

The “Armageddon” scenario was reported on by the Trib in late May, which I blogged about here. The worst case scenario for the Republicans is a loss of six, maybe even seven, seats. That’s unlikely, but the low end is two seats, and that may not be much more probable. We won’t know what the scope may be for a few more weeks, when the court’s ruling comes down, and we may not know for certain until January or February. If you thought the 2012 primaries were fun, just you wait for 2018.

July 2017 campaign finance reports – Congress

It’s July, and that means it’s campaign finance report season. Everyone has reports due at the end of June, so at every level of government there are reports to look at. I’ll be working my way through them, starting today with reports from the many people running for Congress as Democrats this cycle, some of whom have done very well in the fundraising department. I took a look at all of the Q2 FEC reports for Texas Democratic Congressional candidates, and found a few things to talk about. First, here are some of the more interesting reports:

Todd Litton – CD02

Jana Sanchez – CD06

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

Dori Fenenbock – CD16

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

Christine Mann – CD31

Ed Meier – CD32
Colin Allred – CD32

Dayna Steele – CD36
Jonathan Powell – CD36

And here’s a summary of what’s in them:


Dist  Name             Raised    Spent    Loans   On Hand
=========================================================
02    Litton          138,702    6,936        0   131,845

06    Sanchez          51,568   29,479        0    19,728

07    Triantaphyllis  451,165   48,776        0   402,389
07    Fletcher        365,721   22,671        0   343,049
07    Moser           234,901   42,530        0   192,370
07    Westin          152,448   32,560        0   119,888
07    Cargas           35,708   27,575   13,750    14,549
07    Kerner           17,173    3,602    2,700    13,571
07    Butler            9,470    7,371        0     2,099

16    Fenenbock       343,835   15,088   50,000   328,746

21    Kopser          204,639   68,816        0   135,823
21    Crowe            44,648   19,936        0    24,811
21    Perri            41,186   15,876    7,140    25,309
21    McFadden         37,209   18,517      500    18,691

31    Mann             19,771    5,820        0    13,685

32    Meier           344,366   45,996   27,848   298,369
32    Allred          205,591   56,993   25,000   148,597

36    Steele           64,627   19,052    1,231    45,574
36    Powell           27,158    5,153        0    22,004

I don’t have all of the candidates in here – there are over 100 reports, including incumbents, candidates from past races who are not active, and people who raised no money – just the ones I felt like mentioning. It’s a bit arbitrary, but I basically included races that had at least one candidate of interest to me. I did not include every candidate from every race – I skipped people in CDs 02, 21, and 32, in particular. Some candidates of interest are not here, specifically Veronica Escobar in CD16, MJ Hegar in CD31, and Pete Gallego in CD23; Escobar has not made her entry official as yet, and both Hegar and Gallego got in too late to have anything to file about.

With all those preliminaries out of the way, let’s note that the top story here is the large number of large numbers. Four Republican incumbents were outraised last quarter by at least one of their Democratic opponents – Ted Cruz, Ted Poe in CD02, John Culberson in CD07, and Lamar Smith in CD21. Pete Sessions in CD32 only just outraised Ed Meier, and once you add in Colin Allred he trailed the Democratic candidates significantly. Suffice it to say, we have never seen anything like this, certainly not since the DeLay re-redistricting. All of these Republicans have an overall cash on hand advantage, but it won’t be anywhere near the kind of advantage they’re used to. When Hegar and Gallego get up to speed, I expect both of them will be in the same class as their peers in these races.

The redistricting ruling is likely to have an effect on this for the next quarter as well. All of the maps presented by the plaintiffs created another Democratic district in the D/FW area, which was usually drawn as CD24, and significantly reconfigured CD27 as well. Neither of those districts currently has anyone who filed a finance report as a Dem, but if one of these maps or something like them gets adopted for 2018, that will change in a hurry.

Disclaimer time: Money isn’t everything, and fundraising isn’t destiny. But think of all the times you’ve heard people complain – or you yourself have complained – about Texas acting as an ATM for campaigns everywhere else. This is all money being raised for candidates here, and it’s happening in a year where there are and have already been plenty of opportunities to fund campaigns in other states. This is a level of enthusiasm and engagement we are not used to seeing. I don’t know how this will all turn out – these are still Republican districts that will take a major shift in the electorate to be competitive. Right now, a lot of people think that’s possible, and they are literally putting their money where that belief is. I don’t see how this is anything but good news.

Will we have enough candidates for the opportunities?

There’s always something to worry about.

With the Texas case moving forward, the boundaries of the congressional districts remain in question with the 2018 elections less than 18 months away. The Lone Star State’s primary filing deadline is in six months.

So, incumbent lawmakers and potential challengers are watching to see where the districts’ boundaries will fall, and weighing how that could affect the outcomes in next year’s midterms.

[…]

National Democrats have heard from candidates interested in [CD23]. And while they expect strong challengers to emerge, none have so far.

“Everyone’s kind of keeping their powder dry until it makes a little more sense to announce,” said [Colin] Strother, the Democratic consultant.

The court also ruled two other districts were unlawful: the 35th District, which stretches from San Antonio to Austin, and is represented by Democrat Lloyd Doggett; and the 27th District along Texas’ central Gulf Coast, represented by Republican Blake Farenthold.

[Michael Li, senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice] speculated that, if the court rules the current map is also invalid, a new congressional map could lead to two or three more Democratic seats. Republicans currently outnumber Democrats, 25 to 11, in the Texas delegation.

But one GOP consultant focused on Texas did not believe a new map would result in a significant shift against the Republicans.

“There’s just not enough Democrats to roll around the state to really have massive amounts of change,” the consultant said. “You may lose one seat.”

The consultant also said the uncertainty would not have an effect on congressional campaigns for incumbents, since they are accustomed to the constant legal battles over the congressional lines.

But Strother said Democrats had to be prepared just in case.

“The nightmare scenario for Democrats is we don’t have people preparing for the emergency that this district or that district suddenly gets great for Democrats … and it’s too late,” he said.

Strother said he didn’t see many Democrats preparing for races just yet, but pointed to Joe Kopser in the 21st District as someone jumping in early in a race rated Solid Republican by Inside Elections.

Kopser, an Army veteran and technology businessman, recently announced that he would challenge GOP Rep. Lamar Smith in the central Texas district. It is possible a new congressional map could have a ripple effect and alter the lines of Smith’s district.

While the district is not on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s list of 2018 targets, the committee is waiting to see how the redistricting case pans out.

I’m not worried about this. Districts that aren’t likely to change or which won’t change that much ether already have candidates or candidates in waiting – Pete Gallego is circling around CD23, for one, and there are other candidates looking at it as well – and in the districts that may change a lot, like CD27, there’s really no choice but to wait and see what they actually look like. Sure, Republican incumbents who are already sitting on a decent pile of campaign cash will have an advantage, but that was always the case, and it may not matter that much in any event, depending on how the districts get drawn. As far as CD21 goes, a look at the FEC reports shows that there are at least three other candidates running against Lamar Smith, one of whom has been out there for a couple of months. We’re going to have plenty of candidates, and some of them will have a decent chance of winning. It’s all good.

Pasadena has a decision to make

To continue the redistricting appeal, or to drop it and accept the ruling? One factor to consider is the cost involved.

Pasadena has already paid more than $2.5 million to its outside attorneys.

But there’s a complication: Under federal law, if the plaintiffs prevail, the city would be on the hook for their legal fees in addition to its own. The five Latino Pasadena residents who filed the lawsuit have been represented without charge by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

“As a nonprofit, we do depend on collecting legal fees when we are entitled to them when we represent plaintiffs who have been found to have been discriminated against,” said Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF president and general counsel.

The potential for additional legal fees could support an argument to continue the appeal or to end it.

If the city instructs its lawyers to drop the case now, the two sides would negotiate a payment to MALDEF based on the market rate for this type of legal work in Houston and the number of hours devoted to the case.

If the city appeals and wins, its own legal fees will increase but it will owe nothing to MALDEF. If it loses, the bill goes up even more.

“They can stop the bleeding now or take the risk that it goes even higher,” said Saenz.

First, let’s be clear that however much money Pasadena winds up spending, primary responsibility for it falls on its former Mayor, Johnny Isbell. Of course, Isbell couldn’t have done what he did without four willing Council members, one of whom was new Mayor Jeff Wagner, who gets to decide the course going forward. The state of Texas would like Pasadena to continue the fight, but it’s not like they’re going to pony up some money for the lawyers at the end of it all. Settling now give Pasadena cost certainty, and maybe they can get a good-faith discount from the plaintiffs’ attorneys. Fighting on has the chance of getting to pay less than what they owe now, but good luck calculating an expected value for that outcome. And fighting on and losing is the worst of all worlds. So how risk-averse do you feel today, Mayor Wagner?

Gallego-Hurd 3.0

It could happen.

Pete Gallego

Pete Gallego

Less than a year after he lost his bid to reclaim his U.S. House seat, former U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, is seriously considering another run for Congress, citing shifting political winds in Texas’ 23rd congressional district following the election of President Donald Trump.

A 2018 campaign would be Gallego’s third against U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes, who unseated the one-term Gallego in 2014. Gallego then unsuccessfully challenged Hurd two years later, losing by 3,051 votes — an outcome Gallego believes would be much different if the election were held today.

“It’s certainly a different environment out there today than it was six months ago,” Gallego said in an interview. “I have seen a lot of energy and enthusiasm in Democratic ranks — more than I’ve ever seen.”

“Frankly I’m energized about 2018,” Gallego added.

[…]

Gallego could have company in the Democratic primary, where Jay Hulings, an assistant U.S. attorney from San Antonio, and Judy Canales, a former Obama and Clinton appointee from Eagle Pass, are also weighing campaigns. State Rep. Cesar Blanco, D-El Paso, was seen as a possible candidate for the seat but announced last month he will seek re-election to the Texas House.

Hulings’ name came up in some very early speculation about who might run for what next year; this is the first time I’ve heard Judy Canales’ name. I can tell you that as yet no one has filed an FEC finance report, so as of today there are no actual candidates, just theoretical ones. The story suggests, and I have no doubt, that people are waiting to see what the court will do in the redistricting case, given that CD23 is one of the districts at issue. Time is less of a factor here in that as soon as there are any candidates for CD23 they should have no trouble garnering contributions. The amount of money already coming in to candidates in districts far tougher than CD23 is staggering – the contenders in CD07 combined to raise in excess of $1.2 million, for example. Whoever runs in CD23 will have the resources to run a competitive race. It’s a matter of who that will be and what the district will look like.

Let a thousand hypothetical alternative Texas Congressional maps bloom

Stephen Wolf of Daily Kos Elections takes a crack at drawing a remedial Congressional map for Texas.

Just how effective is GOP gerrymandering in Texas, and what might a redrawn map look like in 2018 as a consequence of a favorable court ruling? To answer these questions, we’ll analyze a hypothetical fully nonpartisan congressional map below as part of our ongoing series on how Republican congressional gerrymandering affected the 2016 elections. We drew this map by balancing traditional nonpartisan redistricting criteria such as preserving communities of interest, minimizing city and county divisions, respect for the Voting Rights Act, and geographic compactness, while ignoring factors like where incumbents live.

To ensure that our hypothetical nonpartisan congressional map complies with the Voting Rights Act and past Supreme Court precedents, we have estimated the Citizen Voting Age Population (CVAP) according to the 2008-2012 American Community Survey in addition to the official 2010 census population figures. Since Texas has a large and disproportionately Latino non-citizen population, all demographic figures given below refer to CVAP unless noted. We have additionally calculated results by district for every statewide partisan race from 2016 back to 1996 using the Texas Legislative Council’s redistricting data sets, and you can find all of those demographic and election statistics here.

Before we delve into the map, we’ll start with a quick note about what the Voting Rights Act requires. The VRA protects racial or ethnic minority groups in certain districts where there is 1) racially polarized voting, 2) a compact minority population, and 3) a majority population that would otherwise vote as a bloc to defeat candidates chosen by minorities. The VRA does not require that these districts elect a representative who belongs to the protected racial or ethnic group, just that the group can elect its chosen candidates, who may happen to be white.

As the Supreme Court has emphasized in recent racial gerrymandering rulings, a single racial minority group does not actually need to comprise an absolute majority of a protected district’s population so long as the group can reliably elect its candidate choice in that district. Consequently, black VRA districts often do not need to be majority black, while Latino VRA seats sometimes need to be considerably more than 50 percent Latino due to low turnout rates.

With those VRA requirements in mind, here is our proposed nonpartisan Texas congressional map.

[…]

As shown below, our fully nonpartisan congressional map likely would have given Texas Democrats four or five extra House seats in 2016. Those districts include the 2nd in west Houston, the 6th in Ft. Worth, the 10th in central Austin, and the 23rd in San Antonio and El Paso, while the 25th in suburban Austin could’ve gone either way. Additionally, the GOP-held 32nd District in northern Dallas becomes slightly bluer, meaning this map’s impact could grow in future elections.

As we explained above, even if the court strikes down the GOP’s gerrymander and orders the state to draw new districts, it’s likely that Republicans will be able to draw a new gerrymander under additional constraints. Such a scenario would likely see Democrats and Latinos gain at least two seats between South Texas and Austin.

However, it’s an open question whether the court would require a new seat in Dallas-Ft. Worth that would likely elect a third extra Latino Democrat at the expense of a white Republican. The GOP would likely still get to gerrymander in Austin, Houston, and northern Dallas, but two-to-three extra safe seats would be a big deal for Democratic hopes of a House majority in 2018.

Conversely, if Texas Republicans for some reason do not get the opportunity to draw a new map and the court does it for them, the GOP really could be facing the “Armageddon” scenario that it fears. Regardless, we have demonstrated how Republican gerrymandering produces a monumental difference in the Lone Star State’s congressional delegation, and it likely cost Democrats more seats in 2016 than in any other state.

Go read the full writeup, which is very detailed. A 21R/15D split, which this map would produce if the swing CD25 stayed Republican, would be pretty representative of statewide voting patterns, basically giving Republicans 58.3% of the Congressional seats. That’s in line with my own calculations, though of course that will be a moving target over time and across Presidential/non-Presidential years. One local effect of this map would be that the gaggle of contenders in CD07 would need to refile in CD02, if they wanted a winnable race. If nothing else, this particular map is a model of compactness – there are no districts that look like they fell out of a Salvador Dali painting. The trial is now over, so this is more of an academic exercise than anything else; I don’t know if it would have been possible to file something like this as an amicus brief for the trial, but it might have been interesting to have done so. Anyway, take a look and see what you think.

Redistricting trial wraps up

Now we wait.

The state of Texas faced a healthy dose of judicial skepticism on Saturday as its lawyers laid out final arguments in a trial over whether lawmakers intentionally discriminated against minority voters in enacting current Texas House and Congressional district maps.

A three-judge panel peppered lawyers from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office with questions that suggested they were having trouble swallowing the state’s defense of its maps, premised on the argument that lawmakers were merely following court orders in creating them.

The state Legislature adopted the maps in 2013 in an effort to half further legal challenges that began in 2011.

In the final hours of six days of hearings, U.S. District Judge Xavier Rodriguez said he saw “nothing in the record,” to suggest the 2013 Legislature, before approving the boundaries, considered fixing voting rights violations flagged by another federal court identified ahead of time.

He and another district judge, Orlando Garcia, also criticized the state’s unwillingness to offer documents and testimony that might shine a light on lawmakers’ intentions. State lawyers kept such evidence out of court throughout the trial by claiming “legislative privilege,” which allows lawmakers to keep secret their communications on policy along with their “thoughts and mental impressions.”

The plaintiffs “get no documents, because you invoke legislative privilege. They get no testimony because of legislative privilege,” said Rodriguez, a George W. Bush-appointee. “How else are they going to get it?”

[…]

It’s not clear when the judges might rule, but they said they wanted to avoid affecting the 2018 elections which could be pushed back if new maps are not approved in time.

There’s a lot more, so go read the rest. Michael Li notes that however quickly (or not) the judges may rule, there will still be appeals. Lord only knows when we may have a final map – the possibility that primaries will be delayed, as was the case in 2012, cannot be overlooked. Li also rebuts the argument that it’s just not possible to draw additional minority districts.

Consider, for example, the configuration of Dallas-Fort Worth area congressional districts in Plan C286, the demonstration map drawn by Harvard professor Stephen Ansolabehere and offered at trial by the Rodriguez plaintiffs.

Under Plan C286, TX-24 would become a coalition district with a citizen voting age population that is 36.1% Latino, 18.7% African American, and 5.8% Asian (mostly of Indian and Pakistani descent).

The district largely overlaps the Dallas County commissioner district currently represented by Elba Garcia and like that district would in all likelihood elect the Latino preferred candidate in the Democratic primary, although a candidate supported by a cross-ethnic coalition could also win. But, regardless, in the general election, the minority preferred candidate would win overwhelmingly virtually every time.

Compared to the 1991 version of TX-30, Plan C286′s TX-24 is much more compact and confined wholly to western Dallas County.

More importantly, unlike minority districts that in the past drew criticism for splitting cities and towns, TX-24 in Plan C286 keeps the cities of Irving, Grand Prairie, and Farmers Branch intact, joining them seamlessly to heavily Latino parts of the adjacent City of Dallas. (TX-33 a coalition district in neighboring Tarrant County, likewise, closely tracks municipal boundaries).

Li has a couple of maps from the demonstration plans to illustrate his point. Indeed, he says, you have to divide up cities to avoid the creation of minority districts nowadays. There were multiple maps creating such districts on offer, it’s just a question of whether or not the judges will accept one of them. Hopefully, we’ll know soon enough.

The broader implications of the Pasadena voting rights lawsuit

Buried in this Trib story about the ongoing saga of Pasadena’s voting rights lawsuit is this nugget about the state getting involved.

The case could reverberate beyond Pasadena’s city limits. Legal experts contend that a decision by the 5th Circuit could guide other courts around the country that are considering similar voting rights cases.

The Pasadena ruling also has the potential to help build a case against the state, which faces its own voting rights challenges in court, said Richard Murray, a political science professor at the University of Houston who has studied voting rights cases for decades.

In lifting federal electoral oversight for Texas and other jurisdictions in 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court noted that conditions for minority voters had “dramatically improved,” but the justices left open the possibility that political jurisdictions could be placed back under preclearance if they committed new discriminatory actions.

Earlier this year, Texas faced a barrage of federal court rulings that found the 2011 Legislature intentionally discriminated against voters of colors by passing a stringent voter ID law and re-drawing the state’s political maps. Those cases are still making their way through federal courts in Corpus Christi and San Antonio.

The Pasadena ruling — “particularly because it was so thoroughly stated and so strong and by a judge that has no history of favoring blacks or Latinos in redistricting cases” — could serve as “another brick in building this case that Texas has a recent history of discriminatory action,” Murray said.

In a sign that Texas leaders also see Pasadena as a potential problem for its own cases, state attorneys filed an amicus brief in support of the city’s appeal, arguing that preclearance “must be sparingly and cautiously applied” to avoid reimposing “unwarranted federal intrusion.”

Judge Rosenthal’s preclearance ruling in the Pasadena case was improper, the state contends, because it was imposed for a single incident of discrimination instead of pervasive and rampant discrimination.

Raise your hand if you’re surprised that the state got involved. I’m surprised it took them this long. It is not yet clear if the city of Pasadena will continue to pursue this appeal. New Mayor Jeff Wagner has said he will abide by the will of Pasadena City Council. He hasn’t said much about it since being elected, including when he might ask them for their opinion. The Fifth Circuit declined to overturn Judge Rosenthal’s injunction on using the 6-2 Council map, but they did not address the merits of the overall ruling, including the bail-in on Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act. I don’t know what the time frame for a hearing of that appeal at the Fifth Circuit might be, but broadly speaking it’s likely to be some time in 2018. Unless Pasadena decides to drop it and accept the lower court ruling, of course. Will the state’s intervention have an effect on that? We’ll know when Mayor Wagner asks Council to vote on the appeal.