Here is a summary of recent action regarding redistricting:
The three-judge federal court in D.C. issued its preclearance decision on August 28th, denying preclearance under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act to the redistricting plans for the Republican passed Texas Congressional, Senatorial, and House maps. The state then filed an appeal to the D.C. court decision on August 31st. It is still unclear how long this appeal, which goes straight to the Supreme Court, will take.
In regard to the Congressional map, the DC court unanimously found that the entire congressional redistricting plan was infected with intentional racial discrimination. This is a very rare determination by a federal court and it affirms the arguments made by me and other Democrats in the 2011 Texas Legislature. The DC court also addressed the other part of the Section 5 standard: Retrogression. Retrogression has the effect of making voting more difficult for minority voters than it had been before the change in the district lines. A majority of the court held that the “representation gap” for minorities actually increased by the 2011 legislation, which made it retrogressive and not able to be pre-cleared.
A majority also held that the prior Congressional District 25—Congressman Doggett’s district anchored in Austin—was a protected “crossover district” which functioned as an ability-to-elect district for Hispanic and Black voters, in coalition with Anglo voters, to elect their candidates of choice. This means that it cannot be eliminated by the legislature without creating an equivalent replacement district providing protection to the same class of minority voters.
Texas Senate & Texas House
In regard to the Senate map, the DC court unanimously denied preclearance to the 2011 plan because of intentional racial discrimination, focusing on the way minority voters in the Fort Worth area were purposely gerrymandered. I believe Travis County voters are particularly diluted by the plan. The County is split into 4 Senatorial districts, with one stretching all the way to Laredo, two anchored in Hays and Bastrop Counties, and the other reaching northwest to Brown County. This greatly affects the ability of Travis County voters to elect candidates as a coalition.
As for the House, the DC court unanimously denied preclearance based on retrogression citing that additional minority districts could have been created but were not.
In response to the DC court opinion’s denial of preclearance, LULAC sought an order from the San Antonio court to set aside the interim congressional plan, C235, that had been adopted by the court back on the spring for the 2012 election cycle only and come up with a new plan. This interim plan is basically the same as the plan passed by the Legislature, which was denied preclearance. The key differences are a slight increase in Hispanic voting numbers in CD23 (San Antonio-El Paso West Texas district) and a new district, CD33, in the Dallas/Fort Worth area.
The San Antonio court denied LULAC’s request and said that the November elections would go forward under the interim plan. LULAC has asked the US Supreme Court to stop that order from taking effect, and the Supreme Court has asked for the state’s response to this request this week. Assuming that the Supreme Court stay is not issued, the November elections will proceed under the interim plan.
The San Antonio court has asked for a briefing by December 1st on what is to happen next with the challenges to the 2011 redistricting plans. One important question is whether or not the Texas Legislature will get another chance to remedy the problem and pass “legal” maps next session. If so, it will be important to take up redistricting earlier in the 2013 Session in order to avoid yet another special session around this contentious issue.
As always, I will keep you informed as I learn more.