The high court today turned away the lawsuit that complained the new congressional and legislative maps are unconstitutional because they assign voters to districts based on their political views and voting histories. A federal court threw out the group’s lawsuit last year.
Attorney General Greg Abbott announced he had reached agreement on most parts of the maps with most of the parties involved. Notably absent from the deal are the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, the NAACP, the so-called Davis plaintiffs, and the Texas Democratic Party, who sued over the Senate district maps in Tarrant County. In a conference call on the proposal, Abbott says he’s confident that the state will have a primary in April. “The plan that is now posted — that will not be objected to by a large number of parties to this lawsuit — addresses all of the Section 5 and Section 2 objections [under the federal Voting Rights Act],” he said. Abbott said the proposal will allow the court to put the maps in place in time to cause only a small delay instead of a big one.
Jon Stewart and Lou Dobbs are no different. On Monday’s episode of The Daily Show, Dobbs, a well-documented immigrant hater paradoxically married to a Hispanic woman, (self-loathing, party of two), said he sees the SCOTUS’s recent decision to reject San Antonio federal court-drawn maps as an act of retribution for so-called courtroom activism. Stewart, on the other hand, who, despite claims of loyalty to comedy first, is the quintessential liberal, East Coast elite, interprets the SCOTUS’s move as proof that the original maps were in fact full of Republican Party bias along ethnic lines.
The state has argued that the judge’s ruling would preclude the General Assembly from drawing the maps at all and violates the Constitution’s separation-of-powers provisions. The plaintiffs in the case, meanwhile, argue that since the maps were not drawn in 2011, the legislature cannot do so until 2021 and argues that a court must draw the new lines. The Attorney General’s Office is also seeking an appeal of Judge Taylor’s order and a stay of proceedings in the circuit court until the high court rules.
A panel of three federal judges in San Antonio asked Friday that lawyers for the nine plaintiff groups, which are made up mostly of minority groups, get together with lawyers for the State of Texas to see if they could agree on a new set of maps for the U.S. House, the Texas House and the state Senate. If all parties — which are fighting over Legislature-approved maps that plaintiffs say discriminate against minorities — could come to agreement by this Friday, then it would be possible to hold primary elections April 3, as planned, or shortly thereafter, the court said. But it didn’t take long for the negotiations to fall apart, as hopes for an April primary grow more remote, said Luis Vera, the lawyer for the League of United Latin American Citizens. “Negotiations went really, really bad yesterday,” he said Monday. “They are dead for now.”
Commentators are generally interpreting the ruling cautiously, but have missed a larger point our own Justin Levitt, a law professor specializing in redistricting, made earlier this month when he urged the high court “not to micromanage the process.” To start from the beginning: The Texas legislature had the option to earn clearance for their map (mandated by the VRA for places like Texas with histories of egregious racial discrimination) from the Obama administration’s Department of Justice, or from a theoretically impartial panel of federal judges in D.C. that takes much longer to decide. The Supremes, in telling the San Antonio judges to defer more to the Legislature’s plan (even while criticizing both plans), has opened the door wider for more of today’s Republican-led state legislatures to opt for the slower D.C. panel instead of the DoJ — with confidence that any less-favorable interim maps created by local courts will not survive federal court, even with the added time pressure to have maps ready for the looming elections. The Republican-controlled Virginia state government, for example, has yet to submit its map for pre-clearance, and could follow this path.
In rejecting the judge’s map, the Court noted that, when it comes to redistricting, there are no such things as “neutral principles.” All of the decisions involved are policy judgments. Attorney General Eric Holder recently stated that our election systems should be “free from partisan influence,” but I thought that was the entire point of redistricting. On what other basis are state legislatures expected to draw boundaries for Congressional seats? Do we really expect state legislatures to ignore political considerations?
The new map for Missouri’s eight congressional districts will also now be under review as a result of the Court’s ruling. The Court based this ruling on the fact that there have been complains that the new districts may not be as compact as possible. “I was just getting used to the idea of representing Laclede and Camden Counties, and now that all may change,” Brown said. He said it may be possible that the new commission appointed by Nixon may decide to just go with the second map that was thrown out, or they may completely re-work the districts yet again.
David Wasserman talked about congressional redistricting plans across the nation, with a special look the case before the Supreme Court regarding the proposed redistricting in Texas. He responded to telephone calls and electronic communications.
The arguments Monday largely turned on the way the San Antonio judges drew the lines and on some Supreme Court justices’ discomfort with allowing a map — even for only one election cycle — to proceed without approval. “How do we decide?” Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. asked. Judge Sonia Sotomayor, the only Hispanic on the court, jumped in the discussion early, telling the lawyer for the Lone Star State, “You can’t draw new maps until they’ve been pre-cleared.” She also asked what the real “drop-dead” date was to set a primary date — and, told that June 26 was the last presidential primary, suggested that date as the latest for the Texas primary elections.
Right now, the surest bet seems to be that you can cross April 3 off your calendar for the primary elections. The absolute drop dead date, given Texas’ election codes, is June 26, which would mean that both parties will have conducted their biennial conventions without having precincts in place for precinct chairs.
If the Supreme Court decides the Texas elections should wait for a ruling from the Washington panel, the April 3 primaries will probably be delayed. When the primaries were moved to April 3, election officials from around the state told the courts they’d have to have maps and candidate lists by Feb. 1; if they don’t, those election officials, already pressed, will argue they don’t have time to put the elections together. The state wants to use the Legislature’s maps even if means using those without preclearance. The U.S. solicitor general argued that that would undermine the Voting Rights Act, because those maps aren’t legal until they’ve been precleared. And the groups suing the state — a mix of Democrats, minority groups and civil rights organizations — argued that the only legal maps are the ones drawn by the federal judges in San Antonio, because the state’s maps haven’t been precleared.
The state knows that most of the congressional and other state legislative districts were drawn, in effect, to thwart likely Latino preferences from winning in most of those districts. And, actually, I kind of wish there were more Latino Republicans in Texas and elsewhere. It might temper some of the mean-spiritedness toward immigration. It might have the collateral benefit of preventing Democrats from taking Latinos for granted.