Thursday, February 23, 2012

Texas Redistricting: Where Are We?

All of the hearings and briefings have concluded, and we are simply waiting on the  courts to rule.  A three judge D.C. court is considering whether the legislature’s maps comply with Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA).  A three judge San Antonio court is determining whether the legislature’s maps comply with Section 2 of the VRA and are otherwise constitutional.
D.C. Court
The D.C. court has previously indicated that it would not issue a ruling before March at the earliest.  It is clear that the D.C. court will find that the maps do not comply with Section 5.  It is unknown how many VRA violations the court will find and whether the court will specify how the affected districts are to be redrawn.  The plaintiffs, comprised of minority and Democratic groups, are anxious for the D.C. court to rule before the San Antonio court issues maps, because they believe the D.C. court will be more favorable to their position than the San Antonio court.
San Antonio Court
The San Antonio court has strongly encouraged and prodded the parties to settle their differences so that the court could issue agreed maps.  The parties did agree on the State Senate map, but it is clear they are unable to reach a settlement regarding the Texas House or Congressional seats.
Accordingly, the San Antonio court is drawing interim maps.  The court previously indicated that the primary election would be May 29 at the earliest.  Testimony from election officials indicated they need maps by March 3 in order to have a May 29 election.  The Supreme Court has instructed the court to give deference to the legislature’s district lines except where 1) legal challenges under the Constitution or VRA Section 2 are shown to have a “likelihood of success”; or 2) there is a “not insubstantial” chance that aspects of the legislature’s map will fail under VRA Section 5 review.
Two Possible Scenarios
(1)  The San Antonio court does not wait on the D.C. court to rule, but rather issues interim maps by March 3 (Saturday week) and schedules the primary election for May 29 with the runoff July 31.  The court has indicated that it will also reopen candidate filing for some period of time.  The problem with this scenario is that we will subsequently get a ruling from the D.C. court regarding Section 5 pre-clearance, and that ruling may not comport with how the San Antonio court drew the lines.

(2)  The San Antonio court waits on the D.C. court to rule, and then incorporates that ruling when it issues an interim map.  However, given the D.C. court has previously indicated it would not issuing a ruling until March at the earliest, it means we would not have a May 29 primary.  The next likely date would June 26, with the runoff late August or early September.
Scenario (1) appears to me to be the most likely based on what I am seeing and hearing.  I am hopeful that we will see interim maps either this week or next, resulting in a May 29 election.  If that doesn’t happen, no telling when the Texas primary will be.