Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Voting Rights Act

Lawsuit over how judges are elected statewide goes to trial

Hey, remember that lawsuit that argued that statewide elections of judges was discriminatory against Latinos? The case is being heard in court this week.

El Paso lawyer Carmen Rodriguez and Juanita Valdez-Cox, a community organizer in the Rio Grande Valley, live hundreds of miles from each other, but they share an electoral grievance that could upend the way Texans fill seats on the state’s highest courts.

For years, Rodriguez and Valdez-Cox have noticed that campaigning for the Texas Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals hardly reaches their corners of the state. And it’s left them feeling so neglected and undermined as voters that they decided to the sue Texas over the statewide election system it uses to fill seats on those courts.

“I think every vote should count and should have equal weight as much as possible,” Rodriguez testified in federal court on Monday on the first day of a week-long trial in a case challenging the state’s current election method for the Texas Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals. But those campaigning for those seats hardly make their case to El Paso voters, Rodriguez added, so “they don’t seem to need our vote.”

That sentiment is a key component to a lawsuit filed on behalf of Rodriguez, six other Hispanic voters and Valdez-Cox’s organization, La Union del Pueblo Entero, that alleges the statewide method of electing judges violates the federal Voting Rights Act because it dilutes the voting power of Texas Hispanics and keeps them from electing their preferred candidates.U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos has set aside the rest of the week for the trial during which the plaintiffs’ lawyers will work to convince Ramos that Texas should adopt a single-member approach — similar to those employed by some city councils and school boards — that would carve up districts geographically in a way that could allow for Latino-majority voting districts.

“The courts cannot be the great equalizer of our social fabric when one group — Latinos — are disadvantaged in the election process,” Jose Garza, an attorney representing the voters, said in his opening statement Monday.

Throughout the day, Garza and other attorneys representing the voters suing the state called up individual plaintiffs and election law and history experts to help make their case that the state’s current system for electing Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals judges “submerges Latino voters” in a manner that violates Section 2 of the federal Voting Rights Act, which prohibits an electoral practice or procedure that discriminates against voters.

Lawyers for the Texas attorney general’s office, which is representing the state in court, will offer up their own experts later in the week in hopes of dispelling those claims. The state’s lead attorney, Patrick Sweeten, on Monday provided a preview of their arguments when he described their defense and the plaintiffs’ arguments as “two ships passing in the night” because the state’s evidence will show that the plaintiffs cannot meet their legal burden of proving a Section 2 violation.

The state is also expected to call up an expert witness who will argue that single-member districts would “disempower more Hispanic voters than they could potentially empower” because they would only be able to vote for one seat on each high court instead of casting a ballot for all 18 seats.

Plaintiffs’ lawyers spent a large portion of the day arguing that that point would only hold up if you assumed Latinos had the opportunity to elect their preferred candidates to begin with.

See here and here for some background. The plaintiffs survived a motion to dismiss a few months ago. This story was from Tuesday, but I haven’t seen anything more recent so I can’t say how the trial is going. Seems like a heavy lift to me, and there’s an argument to be made that districting the courts would put a ceiling on the number of Latinos that could be elected. You have to figure that sooner or later things will be different for statewide races. That said, I very much understand not wanting to wait, though of course taking a court case to completion will take some number of years. We’re at the start of that process, and we’ll see how it goes. Courthouse News and KUT 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.

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.

Voter ID back before the Fifth Circuit

And the worst judge on the Fifth Circuit does her thing.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

In Texas’ bid to keep its voter identification law intact, it was its legal foes — lawyers representing voting and civil rights groups and individual voters of color — who faced a tougher line of questioning Tuesday before a federal appellate court.

In light of recent revisions to the state’s voter ID law, two judges on the three-judge panel of the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals raised questions about claims that lawmakers intentionally discriminated against voters of color when they passed rules on which photo IDs can be presented at the polls. That intentional discrimination claim, which a lower court affirmed this year, is key to the case over the state voter ID restrictions.

“If there is nothing that says we are trying to advantage white voters … isn’t that proof that there wasn’t discriminatory intent?” Judge Edith Jones, a Reagan appointee, said of the plaintiffs’ lack of a smoking gun to prove purposeful discrimination by lawmakers, despite thousands of pages of memos and transcripts of debates over the voter ID requirements.

[…]

Texas lawmakers passed Senate Bill 5, which mostly followed the lead of temporary voter ID rules Ramos put in place for the 2016 elections in an effort to ease the state’s requirements.

Key to the state’s defense: The new law allows Texans without photo ID to vote if they present alternate forms of ID and sign affidavits swearing a “reasonable impediment” kept them from obtaining the proper ID. Those voters could present documents such as utility bills, bank statements or paychecks to confirm their identification. Those found to have lied about not possessing the proper photo ID could be charged with a state jail felony, which carries a penalty of 180 days to two years in jail.

That revision “completely changes the nature of the law,” Texas Solicitor General Scott Keller told the judges on Tuesday, arguing the appellate court should dismiss Ramos’ August decision to toss that bill out, too. Ramos said SB 5 didn’t clear Texas lawmakers of discriminating against Hispanic and black voters when they passed the original law.

Attorneys representing the voting and civil rights groups suing the state asserted that the “reasonable impediment” provision was a faulty remedy to issues with the original law.

Voting “under the express threat of going to jail” would have a “chilling effect” on voters without photo ID who are more likely to be people of color, said Janai Nelson, an attorney with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

“What one hand gives, the other taketh away,” Nelson said of “reasonable impediment” addition.

See here for the long story. This is all about whether the law was intentionally discriminatory, in which case it would be thrown out in its entirity, or if the fix passed by the Lege remediates all that. This is going to go to SCOTUS, likely with an en banc stop along the way, so whatever happens here is not the last word. Some day this will all be over.

State has not appealed the voting rights case on language interpreters

Interesting.

Texas has spent years defending its voting laws in court, regularly appealing rulings that found state lawmakers violated the rights of their voters. So when a federal appellate court in August ruled against the state’s restrictions on language interpreters at the ballot box, it was easy to assume an appeal would follow.

But more than three months later, Texas appears to be conceding the case.

“We have not heard anything from Texas,” said Jerry Vattamala, director of the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund’s democracy program, who is representing the plaintiffs in the case. “It appears that they are not appealing.”

At issue in the case was an obscure provision of the Texas Election Code that required interpreters helping someone cast a ballot to also be registered to vote in the same county in which they are providing help.

In its August ruling, a three-judge panel of the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court’s finding that Texas ran afoul of the federal Voting Rights Act by restricting the interpretation assistance that English-limited voters may receive and that the law should be struck down.

The appellate court found that Texas’ “limitation” on a voter’s choice “impermissibly narrows” rights guaranteed by a lesser-known section of the Voting Rights Act under which a voter who needs assistance because of visual impairments, disabilities or literacy skills can be helped in casting a ballot by the person of their choice, as long as it’s not their employer or a union leader.

“The problem remains that the Texas provisions expressly limit the right to the act of casting a ballot,” the judges wrote in August. “It should go without saying that a state cannot restrict this federally guaranteed right by enacting a statute tracking its language, then defining terms more restrictively than as federally defined.”

The Texas attorney general’s office, which is representing the state in court, for weeks has been unable to confirm whether its lawyers are appealing the ruling or letting stand the lower court ruling.

“At this time, we cannot confirm or deny any filings sent to the Supreme Court,” Kayleigh Lovvorn, a spokeswoman for the AG’s office, said last week. Instead, she pointed the Tribune to a link to the 5th Circuit’s August ruling on a free, online courts database.

But two weeks past a deadline to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, the clerk’s office for the high court has not received a filing for the case. A clerk for the 5th Circuit confirmed the case is closed at the appellate court, and no recent filings appear on the case’s docket at the lower district court where the case originated.

See here for the last update. I don’t know if this means that no further appeals are possible or if it just means that it’s too late for the current SCOTUS term. I also have no idea why the AG’s office has not pursued this. Whatever the merits of an appeal by them may be, it’s not in Ken Paxton or Greg Abbott’s nature to let something go. Whatever the reason, I’m happy with the outcome.

Paxton officially appeals redistricting ruling to SCOTUS, part 2

The state House version.

Attorney General Ken Paxton on Friday asked the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse a lower court ruling that ordered nine of Texas’ statehouse districts redrawn after being found discriminatory.

In August, a three-judge panel in a federal district court in San Antonio ruled that parts of Texas’ statehouse maps were discriminatory and ordered nine districts in four counties, including Dallas and Tarrant, redrawn. Paxton appealed that decision to the Supreme Court and had the lower court’s ruling blocked in September.

Now, Paxton is asking the Supreme Court to reverse the lower court’s ruling and settle the six-year legal battle.

[…]

Paxton’s move follows a similar request on Texas’ congressional maps earlier this month. In August, the three-judge panel in San Antonio invalidated two congressional districts, Lloyd Doggett’s in Central Texas and Blake Farenthold’s in Corpus Christi, and ordered them redrawn. But after an appeal from Paxton, the Supreme Court blocked the lower court’s ruling. Paxton has also requested that order be reversed.

See here for the background. Not much more to this – we knew it was coming, and here it is. Some day we’ll get a resolution.

Paxton wants voter ID lawsuit to be over

I can think of one way he can make that happen. That’s not what he’s asking for, alas.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The fight over the state’s embattled voter ID laws should be over, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton argued in a new court document filed late Tuesday.

Paxton, as expected, filed a brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals calling for the judges to end a challenge to the state’s new voter ID law for good. In his 101-page document, the Republican argued that because the state has already added new exceptions to the law to allow people who have a reasonable-impediment to getting an ID to still vote, the case should be officially concluded.

“This case should be over,” Paxton’s brief states.

[…]

[Judge Nelva] Gonzales Ramos ruled that forcing people to sign an affidavit under penalties of perjury could have a chilling effect on a voter. The supposed fix to the voter ID law, she ruled, merely traded one obstacle for another.

While the court battle continues, the courts have already ruled that in November the state’s voter ID requirements can be in effect, but still allow people to vote who can show the reasonable impediment – essentially the same as the revamped voter ID law, which does not go into effect until 2018.

See here, here, and here for the background. Paxton’s press release, with a link to the brief, is here. This is basically the crux of the case here: sure (the state argues), the original law may have had a few teensy problems, but we totally cleaned that up this session, so there’s no need for further action. There’s especially no need to ponder if the Lege had any discriminatory intent when it passed that first bill. All I can say at this point is it won’t be quick before we get a final answer.

No expedited appeal of voter ID

There’s no speeding this up.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

A federal appeals court Tuesday declined to have all 14 judges participate in the appeal over the Texas voter ID law — a decision that will keep the issue unresolved heading into the 2018 elections, one judge said.

Civil rights groups, Democrats and minority voters who challenged the voter ID law as discriminatory had asked for the entire court to hear the appeal as a way to speed the case toward resolution.

The 10-4 ruling by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, however, means the appeal will be heard by the customary three-judge panel.

Writing in dissent, Justice Jerry Smith noted that the losing side will probably ask the entire court to review the panel’s decision in what is known as “en banc” consideration — a path the 5th Circuit Court took at an earlier stage of the case that, if taken again, would make it “impossible for a decision to be issued before some, if not all, of the 2018 elections are history,” he said.

“The lopsided vote to deny en banc hearing shows that the court has little appetite for disposing of this important case in advance of the beginning of the 2018 election cycle,” Smith wrote.

“The elephant in the room is Texas’s 2018 election schedule, which includes statewide primaries on March 6 (with early voting beginning February 20), municipal elections May 5 (early voting April 22), primary runoffs May 22 (early voting May 14), and the general election November 6 (early voting October 22),” Smith wrote.

See here for the background. The idea is that if the appeal is heard by the usual three-judge panel, whoever loses is going to ask for an en banc review anyway, so why not skip ahead to that? That’s not what we’re going to get, so the best we can hope for is a sense of urgency from everyone along the way. Oral arguments are set for the first week of December, and after that we’ll have to do a lot of waiting. Rick Hasen has 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.

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.

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.

Fifth Circuit stays voter ID ruling

Ugh.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The state of Texas can use its revised voter ID measure for the upcoming November elections, a divided federal appeals court ruled on Tuesday.

The 2-1 decision, first reported by Politico Tuesday night, came from a panel of three federal judges on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans — and it marks the latest in a series of winding legal battles on whether the state has intentionally discriminated against black and Latino voters through its original voter ID law passed in 2011

[…]

In a joint order Tuesday, Judges Jerry Smith and Jennifer Elrod wrote that Texas “has made a strong showing that it is likely to succeed on the merits,” and added that the state has also “made a strong showing that this reasonable-impediment procedure remedies plaintiffs’ alleged harm and thus forecloses plaintiffs’ injunctive relief.”

The dissenting judge on the panel, Judge James Graves Jr., said it was still uncertain whether Texas would succeed — and pointed to the court’s ruling last year that a North Carolina voter ID law had been propelled by race and was never properly fixed.

See here, here, and here for the background, and here for a copy of the order. Rick Hasen explains where we stand now:

Given how each judge voted in the en banc ruling on the last round of the voter id case, nothing here is a surprise.

This is a ruling just by a motions panel; a separate merits panel will review the case in short order (the motions panel expedited consideration of the case).

There is still a long road ahead. The last time this went through it went en banc to the full 5th Circuit and took a while—so the status quo in the interim matters perhaps for how the 2018 elections will be conducted.

Plaintiffs could try to appeal this stay order to the Supreme Court, where they would probably face a tough audience, with perhaps Justice Kennedy in play.

That’s really what it comes down to, the 2018 election and what voter ID rules are in place. Look how long it took us to get to this point. All we can do is keep moving, there’s still more to be done. ThinkProgress and the Chron have more.

UPDATE: Oral arguments are set for the first week in December.

Trump’s Justice Department goes all in on voter ID

Despicable, but what did you expect?

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Continuing a dramatic reversal on voting rights under President Donald Trump, the U.S. Department of Justice is asking a federal appeals court to allow Texas to enforce a photo voter identification law that a lower court found discriminatory.

In a filing Thursday, the Justice Department asked the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to block a lower court ruling that the state’s new voter identification law — Senate Bill 5, enacted in this year — failed to fix intentional discrimination against minority voters found in a previous strict ID law, enacted in 2011.

[…]

Siding with Texas, the Justice Department says in its filing that the state has a “strong likelihood” of successfully arguing that SB 5 fixes discrimination in the old law. Allowing SB 5 to take effect will “avoid confusion among voters and election officials,” Thursday’s brief states.

The brief does not mention a key piece of Ramos’ rulings throughout the case: that lawmakers intentionally discriminated against Latino and black voters in passing its 2011 ID law. Findings of intentional discrimination typically allow for more sweeping remedies in court.

See here and here for the background. As we know, the Obama Justice Department was strongly opposed to this law, but Justice did a heel turn back in July under the new management. I note that like the AG’s office they decline to address the big honking klaxon in the room, that the 2011 law was enacted with discriminatory intent, which isn’t something that can be easily fixed with minor legislative tweaks. Seems like you have to really lean into the denial to make that case. Which doesn’t mean that it won’t work, just that it shouldn’t. It’s back to the Fifth Circuit for now.

UPDATE: And now we know that a three-judge panel at the Fifth Circuit has bought the argument and stayed Judge Ramos’ ruling pending the appeal. I was already heading to bed when that news broke. I’ll have a post about this tomorrow.

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.

Texas appeals voter ID ruling

On to the next phase.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

As promised, Attorney General Ken Paxton appealed what he called an “outrageous” federal court decision tossing out the state’s new voter ID law.

In a 25-page filing to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit Friday, the Republican attorney general argued the state complied with the court’s call to fix to the state’s voter ID law, which the court found to be discriminatory. But the a U.S. district court judge out of Corpus Christi on Wednesday struck down the law anyway, issuing an injunction permanently barring implementation of the law.

Texas lawmakers passed Senate Bill 5 this year as a remedy after the state’s last voter ID law got tied up in the courts and caused last-minute procedures for people to vote in the 2018 election and a directive lawmakers fix the law this year.

“Texas complied with all the changes to the voter ID law requested by the 5th Circuit, which should reverse the district court’s misguided ruling,” Paxton said in a statement. “Voter ID guarantees to Texas voters the opportunity to cast an in-person ballot and protects the integrity of our elections.”

See here for the background, and here for the press release and filings from the AG’s office. Paxton is also asking the district court for a stay on the ruling pending appeal. I’m sure that won’t be granted, but it’s possible the Fifth Circuit could do that. In the meantime, there’s the question about putting Texas back under preclearance, which could be a game changer.

Kristen Clarke, the president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, one of several groups challenging the law, wrote in an email that Wednesday’s ruling was especially powerful because Ramos did not even attempt to craft a remedial solution, such as a softened ID requirement. Recognizing the overwhelming taint of racial animus, Ramos simply struck the whole thing down. “Judge Ramos’ decision,” Clarke explained, “recognizes that a state cannot escape the consequences of its pernicious conduct without completely eliminating all vestiges of discrimination.” Put differently, Texas is effectively barred from imposing new voter ID rules for the foreseeable future.

[…]

Of course, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority could always intervene and prevent Texas from falling under preclearance by reversing Ramos. But such a decision would contradict the court’s own reasoning in Shelby County. Writing for the court, Chief Justice John Roberts explained that Congress’ preclearance formula was unconstitutional because it was obsolete, chiefly because it relied on old historical patterns rather than contemporary evidence. Ramos, in contrast, has now spent more than three years collecting and analyzing evidence that the Texas legislature purposely suppressed minorities’ right to vote. Her first 147-page opinion overflows with facts, statements, and data establishing that the Texas legislature intentionally discriminated against black and Latino voters—not only in the past, but also this decade, starting in 2011. Her follow-up opinions added further proof that the state is systematically suppressing minority votes.

If Roberts rejects Ramos’ judgment, he will have essentially acknowledged that Shelby County’s rationale was pure pretext. In his majority opinion he demanded evidence that racism is still alive in Southern statehouses; now he has it.

I wouldn’t put it past Justice Roberts to overrule Judge Ramos, but he will have to work for it. Remember, this is not the only possible cause for a return to preclearance. And also remember, preclearance doesn’t necessarily mean the Justice Department gets to be the arbiter of legality. The court could give that responsibility to the DC Circuit Court, which you may recall denied preclearance to both the voter ID law and the redistricting plans back in 2011. There’s a real chance the state has put itself in a box, one of its own making. Any restrictions that do get imposed will have been richly earned. The Observer has more.

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.

Fifth Circuit rules against Texas’ voter interpreter law

Good.

Texas ran afoul of the Voting Rights Act by restricting the interpretation assistance English-limited voters may receive at the ballot box, a federal appeals court found.

In an opinion issued Wednesday, a three-judge panel of the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that an obscure provision of the Texas Election Code that requires interpreters helping someone cast a ballot to also be registered to vote in the same county in which they are providing help clashes with federal voting protections.

That Texas law, the court found, violates a less-known section of the Voting Rights Act under which any voter who needs assistance because of visual impairments, disabilities or literacy skills can be helped in casting a ballot by the person of their choice, as long as it’s not their employer or a union leader.

Texas had argued that its interpreter requirement was meant to be “supplemental” to the VRA, but the appellate court ruled that the state’s “limitation on voter choice” instead “impermissibly narrows” the voting rights guaranteed by federal law.

“The problem remains that the Texas provisions expressly limit the right to the act of casting a ballot,” the judges wrote. “It should go without saying that a state cannot restrict this federally guaranteed right by enacting a statute tracking its language, then defining terms more restrictively than as federally defined.”

[…]

The interpreter voting law has been on hold since last year when U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman scolded the state for “arbitrarily” restricting voters with limited English proficiency. On Thursday, the 5th Circuit judges agreed with that judge’s ruling, but they sided with the state in determining that Pitman’s injunction on the law was too broad. Pitman must now take the case back up and reconsider the language he used in blocking the interpreter law.

See here, here, and here for the background, and here for a copy of the opinion. Basically, the district court judge’s opinion was upheld, with the injunction being vacated with a remand “for the entry of a new injunction, if appropriate, consistent with this opinion”. There were bills introduced in the Lege to address the issues in the lawsuit, but as far as I know they went nowhere. Maybe next time. Until then, we’ll see what the district court does, and if the state appeals. That’s quite the losing streak in voting rights-related cases we’re on here, isn’t it?

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?)

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.

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.

Plaintiffs again ask for voter ID law to be tossed

Again I agree with them.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Minority groups have asked a federal judge to scrap Texas’ voter identification law and place the state under the jurist’s supervision for at least a decade, according to court filings this week.

Not only are the groups taking on the state over the law they say discriminates against blacks and Latinos, but they also want U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos of Corpus Christi to kick their former ally, the U.S. Justice Department, out of the case.

“The United States’ shameful and disgraceful dismissal of their intent claim for political purposes should disqualify them from participating further in this proceeding; the ideals of equality inculcated in the United States Constitution are not subject to such shabby treatment as demonstrated by this administration,” Rolando Rios, a lawyer representing the Texas Association of Hispanic County Judges and Commissioners, wrote in a court brief.

[…]

There’s no indication of when Gonzales Ramos, who has twice ruled that the original voter ID law was intentionally meant to suppress minority voters and intentionally discriminated, might rule on the plaintiffs’ requests in the voter ID case.

See here for the previous time that Judge Ramos was asked to void the law. It’s not clear to me if this is the same group as that, but in any event this ask comes with the ten-year re-imposition of preclearance. The motion to dismiss the now-antagonistic Justice Department is new, too. I can’t find a copy of this brief, but Rick Hasen has the state’s brief asking the judge to drop out and declare all is now well, and the Trump DOJ brief echoing that position and claiming the state is super trustworthy now. Yeah, sure. The Observer has more.

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?

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.

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.

Redistricting trial update: Invoking privilege

Interesting choice.

Texas’ defense of its electoral maps suffered a setback Friday when a state witness couldn’t defend lawmakers’ intentions for much of his testimony.

[…]

Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, was the chairman of the House Select Committee on Redistricting in 2013. He invoked legislative privilege for more than 20 minutes Friday during the plaintiffs’ cross-examination.

Legislative privilege, according to the Texas Constitution, protects lawmakers from having to explain their decision process. It prevents them from being called into court to explain every law they pass. But it is used with caution because once invoked, a lawmaker can’t choose to answer any questions on the legislative process.

Nina Perales, a lawyer for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, which represents a group of Latino lawmakers in the case, asked whether Darby evaluated amendments to the congressional maps based on racial polarization and whether the maps complied with the federal Voting Rights Act.

She asked whether he analyzed the gains of Latino voting power in certain districts and whether court rulings that previously found discriminatory issues with the maps influenced changes made during the 2013 special session. Perales also posed a question about whether an incumbent had proposed changes to his district to preserve his seat.

But because Darby had invoked legislative privilege and could not testify, it effectively ceded ground to Perales, who laid out her argument unchallenged through her line of questioning.

“The fact that he doesn’t testify about his reasons means that the state has no evidence to counter our evidence,” Perales told The Dallas Morning News.

Like I said, interesting choice. This isn’t a criminal case, and there’s no jury, so I presume the judges are free to draw whatever inferences they want from this.

There was more to the state’s defense than that. Both that story and the Trib have those details.

Throughout the week, lawyers representing plaintiffs have offered several alternative House and congressional maps, which they say demonstrate ways to add more opportunity districts and fix violations judges have flagged in past rulings. (The maps were not aimed at maximizing minority representation in Texas, but rather to meet legal standards.)

John Alford, a political science professor at Rice University who the state offered as an expert witness, dismissed those maps as not addressing the problem that the plantiffs claim exist.

“It’s not possible to create an additional majority-minority district in Texas,” Alford said.

[…]

“I don’t think there’s ever been a more exhaustive attempt to redraw a map, than the one here in Texas,” Alford testified.

The state on Friday sought to poke holes in the maps offered by plaintiffs, which rely partly on “coalition” districts where Hispanic and black voters, only in the majority when combined, could elect candidates of their choice — at least in general elections when they overwhelmingly favor Democrats.

Alford, the state’s expert, criticized the plaintiffs’ demonstrated coalition districts, arguing — largely relying on past Democratic primary election results — that Hispanic and black voters in various districts vote differently, preferring candidates of their own race. He underplayed general election data and testimony from voters, which the plaintiffs point to suggest the minority voting groups clearly coalesce around Democrats following primaries.

In that sense, Alford testified, the maps plaintiffs offered would not address Hispanic voters’ statewide underrepresentation.

Lawyers’ for the plaintiffs criticized the minimal value Alford put on general election data, and they highlighted one instance — an even split in black and Hispanic support for U.S. Rep. Mark Veasey, D-Fort Worth, in his 2014 primary win — that did not fit within Alford’s analysis.

The trial is scheduled to wrap up on Saturday. [US Rep. Will] Hurd is expected to testify, and the judges are also expected to pepper lawyers with a lengthy set of lingering questions.

The judges have forty-five questions for the lawyers, which, wow. Alford has been the state’s go-to expert on redistricting for years; he was their expert witness for all of the litigation that followed the DeLay re-redistricting of 2003. Seems to me a claim that you can’t create another majority-minority district in Texas is ludicrous on its face, but that’s for the judges to decide.

Redistricting update: It’s all about the emails

Two days into the trial, and there’s more drama.

Plaintiffs challenging Texas’ 2013 redistricting maps Tuesday accused the state of improperly delaying the release of thousands of pages of documents from them, including 113 documents that state lawyers refuse to hand over because they say they are privileged.

The spat may further delay a conclusion to the weeklong trial, which already was frustrating judges because of repetitive questions.

Many of the documents in question pertain to communications of the chairman of the 2013 redistricting committee, Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, with other people involved in the redistricting, according to a lawyer for the plaintiffs.

The documents, under rules imposed by the three-judge panel, should have been disclosed years ago in the six-year old lawsuit, along with what’s known as a “privilege log,” but the apparent failure was recently discovered by Mark Gaber, one of the lawyers representing what’s known as the Quesada group of plaintiffs, according to court papers filed by Gaber.

After Gaber pressed for the documents last week, state lawyers over the weekend released more than 7,000 pages but stopped short of turning over everything. Gaber filed an emergency motion to compel the state to turn over the 113 pages it says are protected by attorney-client privilege.

“They’ve sort of strung it out throughout the weekend,” said José Garza, a lawyer representing another group of plaintiffs, the Mexican American Legislative Caucus. “We just got another drop this morning. It was documents that had been requested two years ago.”

That was a Tuesday report, now here’s one from Wednesday.

Minorities in Texas are facing uphill battles in getting proper representation in the state as the Legislature continues passing laws that are biased toward them, according to witnesses for civil rights groups challenging the state’s 2013 political boundaries.

Allan Lichtman, a social scientist and history professor at American University, analyzed patterns in the state, including events leading to the 2013 special session that resulted in the latest congressional and state House maps.

Though Republicans have admitted that prior “redistricting decisions were designed to increase the Republican Party’s electoral prospects at the expense of the Democrats,” Lichtman testified that his analysis shows that isn’t true.

“What was done here was to knowingly and intentionally impede the opportunity for African-Americans and Latinos to elect candidates of their choice,” Lichtman testified. “What we see here is intentional discrimination.”

[…]

Lichtman also testified that although Latinos and blacks contributed nearly 90 percent of the state’s explosive growth in recent years, they remain under-represented by nearly four congressional districts. Anglos, whose population decreased, are overrepresented by 5 ½ districts, Licthman said.

The testimony magnified statistics in a graphic Luis Vera , legal counsel for the League of United Latin American Citizens, showed the court: Despite contributing to most of Texas’ explosive growth that resulted in the state gaining four new congressional districts, Latinos today control only 16.7 percent of congressional districts in Texas – the same percentage they held in 1970.

See here for the opening report on the hearings. There may or may not be anything to these emails, but it sure does serve the state’s purposes to run time off the clock. In the Wednesday story, we learn that the judges ordered the state to turn over half of the remaining 113 emails they had refused to hand over before. The plaintiffs are still presenting their case as of yesterday, with the state’s defense to follow. Michael Li continues to live-tweet the proceedings, and the DMN, the Trib, and ThinkProgress have more.

Redistricting trial week begins

This will be the main event of the week.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next round of voter ID briefs ordered

Moving right along:

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

With the next election season looming, a federal judge has set a fast-paced schedule for determining whether Texas should be penalized for a voter ID law found to have been written by Republicans to intentionally discriminate against minority voters.

Saying no additional hearings will be needed, U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos gave lawyers two weeks to file legal briefs on the matter, with a final round of response briefs due July 17.

Ramos also said she wants to hear arguments about whether Texas should be placed under preclearance — meaning the U.S. Justice Department would have to approve any changes to voting laws or practices in the state.

The order, dated Tuesday, said Ramos will take into consideration Senate Bill 5, which was passed by the Legislature in May to expand the forms of identification that registered voters can use to cast ballots in Texas. The judge gave no other details beyond saying she will weigh SB 5 “to the extent that it, on its face, may be relevant to issues regarding remedies.”

Lawyers for Texas have told Ramos that state election officials need a decision by Aug. 10, when voter certificates are finalized and sent to each county for printing.

See here for the previous update. Note that the August 10 date is a deadline for this November’s election; there is still time to fight over this before 2018, though not that much if we take the primaries into account. Basically, this order says we’re done with presenting evidence, now it’s time to decide what if any remedies are needed to bring the state into compliance. The plaintiffs, citing the previous ruling that the law was enacted with discriminatory intent, want the whole thing thrown out and the status restored to what it was before 2011. The state argues that SB5 fixed all the problems and so no further action is needed. Let’s just say that someone is not going to be happy with the ruling.

No partisan gerrymandering claims (yet) in Texas

From Texas Redistricting:

The three-judge panel in the Texas redistricting case has issued an order striking the expert report offered by the Texas Democratic Party in connection with its partisan gerrymandering claim. However, the court said that it would allow the TDP to make an offer of proof under Federal Rule of Evidence 103 so that the report could be part of the record on appeal.

The panel said that it was striking the report because it had previously dismissed the TDP’s partisan gerrymandering claim regarding both the 2011 and 2013 maps.

The long and the short is that the court won’t be reviving the partisan gerrymandering claim and any remedy for the TDP will have to come from the Supreme Court when the case is eventually appealed (after the court decides the other issues in the case).

See here for more on the partisan redistricting case, which came out of Wisconsin. The Texas plaintiffs still have their discriminatory intent rulings, which offer a fair bit of potential for change, as does the recent SCOTUS ruling on racial gerrymandering. It’s possible the Wisconsin case could affect the next round of redistricting in 2021, but I wouldn’t count on anything before then. In the meantime, this case is moving along, and with any luck we’ll have us some new maps in place for next year.