Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Federal Court Turns Back Texas' Redistricting Plan

by Michael Handley

A panel of three federal judges for the United States District Court for the District of Columbia finds in favor of a U.S Department of Justice position stated last year that redistricting plans passed during the 2011 Texas Legislative Session and signed by Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) were drawn with the purpose of discriminating against Latino voters. From the court's opinion:

The latest Census reports that since 2000 the population of Texas grew by over four million. This dramatic increase required the Texas legislature to create new voting districts for the four seats added to the State’s congressional delegation, U.S. CONST. art. I, § 2, cl. 3; id. amend. XIV, § 2, and draw new boundaries for the state and congressional voting districts to comply with the mandate of one-person, one-vote, see Georgia v. Ashcroft, 539 U.S. 461,
488 n.2 (2003). [...]

[...] We conclude that Texas has not met its burden to show that the U.S. Congressional and State House Plans will not have a retrogressive effect, and that the U.S. Congressional and State Senate Plans were not enacted with discriminatory purpose. Accordingly, we deny Texas declaratory relief. Texas has failed to carry its burden that Plans C185, S148, and H283 do not have the purpose or effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority group under section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

The Justice Department opposed approval of the redistricting maps for U.S. House of Representatives and Texas State House, but various groups and organizations opposed those maps, plus the State Senate redistricting maps.

The judges found that seats belonging to white incumbent members of Congress were protected under the redistricting plans, while districts belonging to incumbent minorities were redrawn such that their seats were put in jeopardy.

All three judges said they were overwhelmed with the amount of evidence showing the new redistricting plans were intentionally discriminatory, writing in a footnote that parties “have provided more evidence of discriminatory intent than we have space, or need, to address here.” All three permanent redistricting plans — for Texas’ congressional delegation, its state House of Representatives and the state Senate — are blocked by this DC District Court decision.

Under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, the Justice Department or a federal court is required to pre-clear laws affecting voters before they go into effect in jurisdictions with a history of voting discrimination -- and that includes Texas. Texas had bypassed seeking an administrative ruling from the Department of Justice to ask the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to approve the maps.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott announced he “will immediately” appeal the DC District Court decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Developing, more to come... DC Court Finding

On March 1, the San Antonio U.S. District Court three-judge panel, which controls the state's temporary redistricting maps and 2012 election schedule, issued an order that allowed the Texas Democratic Party and Republican Party of Texas to hold their respective County/Senatorial District (SD) Conventions in April and Primary Election on May 29.

Today's DC District Court decision is on the permanent election maps under which future elections will be conducted. Whether or not today's DC District Court decision will have any bearing on the 2012 general election will take a few days, or maybe a few weeks, to sort out. Texas Republicans have said that if they maintain control of the Texas Legislature following the November 2012 election, they plan to redraw (gerrymander) the election maps again in the 2013 Legislative Session, if the DC Court blocks the redistricting plan passed during the 2011 Legislative Session.

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