Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who claims that the state has cooperated in the discovery process, also maintains that the “discovery requests represent an unwarranted federal intrusion into the operations of the Texas Legislature.” He insists that lawmakers would not be able to do their work if they felt that their private deliberations would be made public.
The question is: What do they have to hide?
Tim Eaton at the Austin American-Statesman reports that Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has indicated that Congressman Lloyd Doggett’s district may be the “sticking point” in redistricting:
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott signaled in a court filing today that U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett’s district could be the sticking point that could prevent a compromise in the ongoing redistricting fight.
The congressional redistricting maps drawn by the Legislature last year — and defended by Abbott — divides Travis County into five congressional districts, up from three now.
From the perspective of the Austin Democrat, one of the casualties of the GOP-controlled Legislature’s map is his Congressional District 25. The Legislature’s map would make CD 25 a Republican district, one Doggett said he couldn’t win, and one that would push him to run in the proposed CD 35, which is based in Bexar County and stretches up Interstate 35 to Austin.
Lawyers representing Travis County and other attorneys working for a major Latino rights groups have said that District 25 deserves to be protected as a “coalition district” - one in which Latinos and African-Americans vote together to elect the candidate of their choice: Doggett.
Abbott, however, doesn’t see it that way at all.
The concept of coalition districts is complicated and hotly debated, and Abbott is taking the position that coalition districts are not protected under the law.
In discussing the possibility of a compromise, Abbott said in today’s filing: “The difficulty lies in CD 25 which is not a protected district as the Department of Justice recognized, and to the extent it is even a coalition district, which in the State’s view it is not, it cannot be drawn based on the Supreme Court’s opinion.”
And to that end, Abbott concluded that he “cannot compromise on this district.”
He added that if the plaintiffs insist on pushing to protect Congressional District 25, they will “prevent a global compromise on the Congressional map.”
Chris Tomlinson of the Associated Press is reporting, “Seven Texas members of Congress of Latino, African and Asian ancestry threatened on Friday to appeal any redistricting deal that does not include all the minority groups involved in the lawsuit over the state’s political maps.”
Nine groups representing minority groups, or politicians representing minorities, filed the lawsuit to block legislative and congressional maps drawn by the Republican-dominated Legislature. Those maps have failed to win judicial approval so temporary maps are needed pending the outcome of cases being fought in San Antonio and Washington.
When state Attorney General Greg Abbott initiated talks last week to draft compromise maps for the 2012 election, he included only the Mexican American Legislative Caucus and a couple of other groups. That has angered the groups not invited to the negotiating table, and the seven members of Congress wrote the letter to demand their inclusion and warn of further legal wrangling if they’re excluded.
The letter was signed by Democratic U.S. Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee, Eddie Bernice Johnson, Charles Gonzalez, Henry Cuellar, Silvestre Reyes, Al Green and Ruben Hinojosa. African American, Hispanic and Asian Texas legislators also signed the letter.
Nolan Hicks at the San Antonio Express-News reports, ” A federal court in San Antonio signaled Thursday it will move ahead with the drawing of interim maps for the 2012 election, just a day after a key Washington, D.C., court said it could take at least a month to determine if the state’s redistricting plans violate the Voting Rights Act.”
In its order, the court told the groups involved in the legal fight to appear at a Feb. 15 hearing, where the panel of three federal judges will hear arguments on “all issues” pertaining to the drawing of interim maps.
The first set of interim maps drawn by the San Antonio court was rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court because it did not give enough deference to the maps passed by the Legislature.
However, the high court gave the San Antonio judges the power to alter the state’s maps where they found a “reasonable probability” that changes made by the state violate the Voting Rights Act.
Under the Voting Rights Act, the state’s redistricting maps cannot be enforced until the court in Washington, D.C., certifies that they don’t disenfranchise minority voters.
Delays in the preclearance process meant that the state’s maps could not be used for the 2012 election, necessitating the creation of interim maps.
Gary Martin and Nolan Hicks of the San Antonio Express-News report, “A panel of federal judges told parties in a Texas redistricting case Wednesday not to expect a ruling within 30 days, throwing the date of the state’s political primaries further in doubt.”
The D.C. court issued a one-paragraph notice to litigants in the case urging all parties to comply with deadlines to file materials. The court said it “does not anticipate issuing any order within the next 30 days.”
The Texas attorney general’s office is “working to resolve the redistricting matters as quickly as possible in a way that properly and fairly applies the law…” said Lauren Bean, a spokeswoman for the Texas attorney general’s office. “Our primary focus is protecting the integrity of Texas’ elections and ensuring they are based on legally constructed redistricting maps —as quickly as possible.”
“What we’re awaiting is an indication from the San Antonio panel” as to what they are going to do, said Chris Elam, a spokesman for the Republican Party of Texas. “The ball rests in their court.”
Boyd Richie, the Texas Democratic Party chairman, said that he no longer believes maps will be available in time for April elections unless a settlement is reached.
The San Antonio court gave all parties until Feb. 6 to draw a consensus map or risk seeing the primaries slide further back into the calendar year.
Negotiations over a consensus map broke down over the weekend.
The Associated Press is reporting, “The three federal judges who will decide whether the Texas Legislature’s new Republican-friendly voting maps violate the Voting Rights Act expressed skepticism Tuesday about one of the state’s core arguments.”
John Hughes, a lawyer for Texas, which is seeking to keep the maps in place, said during closing arguments before a Washington federal court panel that the maps were the result of legal, partisan gerrymandering that didn’t violate federal law. He argued that “a decision based on partisanship” is not based on race, even if it results in minority voters having less political influence.
“Political motivation is not evidence of racially discriminatory intent,” he said.
All three judges expressed doubt about that line of reasoning, with presiding judge Rosemary Collyer making clear she wasn’t swayed.
“It’s really hard to explain (changes to the map) other than doing it on the basis of reducing minority votes,” she said.
Judge Thomas Griffith also pressed Hughes: “Doesn’t the law require map makers to look at the consequences?”
The Washington trial has continued even as attention shifted to a federal court in San Antonio that is also grappling with the redistricting issue. After the U.S. Supreme Court rejected interim maps the court initially drew, it asked the San Antonio court to redraw the maps with more deference to the ones originally drawn by the Legislature.
The San Antonio court gave Texas and the coalition of nine groups until Feb. 6 to agree on temporary maps that would remain in place through November’s election, or see the state’s April 3 primaries delayed. But on Monday, an attorney for one of the groups said the settlement talks had stalled, putting the primary date in jeopardy.
In both proceedings, there’s a lot on the line.
Cameron Joseph at The Hill is reporting:
The Texas state attorneys defending the state’s GOP-drawn redistricting plans from court challenges have reached out to settle litigation, according to sources in the state. The settlement would give minority groups and Democrats what they’ve been demanding from the start: more heavily minority, Democratic-leaning House seats.
The result would likely mean at least four more Texas Democrats in Congress as of next year, a good start on the 25 or so seats Democrats need to win to retake control of the House.
If the state of Texas and the plaintiffs in the case reach an agreement it would solve a drawn out process with two separate lower court battles and a Supreme Court opinion already on the books.
Texas is gaining four seats in Congress and will have 36 total House seats next election. Most of the state’s population growth has come from African Americans and Hispanics, but the Republican state legislators who drew the maps gave the groups few new opportunities in the state.
Any agreement would lead to a minimum of 13 Democratic-leaning seats, and possibly a fourteenth seat depending on how the districts in Fort Worth are drawn.
With conservative former Rep. Nick Lampson (D-Texas) running for a Galveston-area seat, Democrats could win as many as 14 or 15 seats in the state, up from the nine seats they currently hold. Republicans would hold 21 or 22 seats, down from the 23 they currently have.
Those 23 seats include two Democratic-leaning seats won by Republican Reps. Quico Canseco and Blake Farenthold in the 2010 Republican wave election. Farenthold would have a chance to run in the same Galveston district Lampson is likely to run in, while Canseco would have an uphill fight for reelection.
Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) is also likely to be spared a tough race — initial plans would have forced him to run in a Hispanic-majority seat, something Latino groups are looking to avoid.
Also at issue is when the Texas primary election will be held. An update from the Quorum Report explains some of the complications:
As recounted by correspondent John Reynolds, three possible primary alternative primary dates are on the table: April 17, May 29 and June 26. However the election administrators have one set of problems which if resolved favorably makes holding state party conventions all but impossible…and Texas election law requires certain things happen at the party conventions.
Republican Party of Texas chairman Steve Munisteri gave compelling testimony as to why anything after the current April 3 primary date would not allow enough time for the two political parties to do necessary business and hold their conventions. Rescheduling the Republican Party Convention with its 20,000 anticipated attendees is not an option. Venues are usually booked years in advance.
However, the county election administrators reiterated to the Court that they need 13-14 weeks lead time to hold an election. They need six to seven weeks to draw their precinct maps and issue their voter registration cards. The administrators then need to print their ballots and new federal law then requires forty-five days to deliver military ballots and allow for them to come back.
They say that the federal law can not be superseded.
Finally, Ross Ramsey at the Texas Tribune writes:
U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia told an attorney for the state that the parties should try to agree “to as many districts as possible” by early next week “if you want to have an election in April.”
He also said the parties should agree to an election date in case the maps can’t be done in time for an April election.
Garcia and two other judges — Jerry Smith of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and U.S. District Judge Xavier Rodriguez — are trying to decide when to draw maps for the state’s congressional and legislative elections, when to hold the state’s primary elections, and whether the primaries should be split to allow Texans to take part in presidential elections early while giving the courts time to draw maps for the other elections, to be held later on.
The Associated Press reports that D.C. federal Judge Rosemary Collyer said a decision last week by the Supreme Court to send interim redistricting maps back to a San Antonio court means that many of the parties involved with the trial in Washington will be needed in San Antonio.
“It will allow you to finish up with this and turn your attention to whatever’s going on,” in San Antonio, Collyer said of the new timetable.
Closing arguments, which had been scheduled for Feb. 3 will now be held on Jan. 31. The judges have also set a schedule for post-trial filings from the state of Texas, Justice Department and minority groups who are arguing the case.
The state of Texas and the Justice Department will each get one hour to deliver closing remarks. Several minority groups who have joined with the Justice Department to oppose Texas’ map will be given about 15 minutes each to make their closing remarks.
Tim Eaton reports that the three-judge panel in San Antonio’s federal court said Monday that it is “giving serious consideration” to calling for split dates for party primaries with the presidential nominating contests coming earlier than legislative races in which district boundaries have yet to be decided.”
In an article published by the Austin American-Statesman, Eaton writes:
The only way to proceed as planned with a single primary date on April 3 would be for the State of Texas and plaintiffs’ groups suing the state to agree upon interim redistricting maps by Feb. 6, said U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia, who is on the three-judge panel in San Antonio that is hearing one of the Texas redistricting cases.
Ross Ramsey of the Texas Tribute reports that the federal court’s five page order is full of dates and deadlines:
- The judges say they will almost certainly move a candidate filing deadline now set for Feb. 1.
- They said the parties should confer and submit agreed-upon interim maps for legislative and congressional elections by Feb. 6 if they “wish to maintain the current election schedule.” If they can’t agree, the judges want a list of districts in the Legislature’s maps that each party no longer objects to.
- The parties are involved in hearings in Washington, D.C., where a separate panel of three federal judges is deciding whether the Legislature’s maps violate preclearance provisions of the federal Voting Rights Act. Ideally, the San Antonio judges would have that court’s ruling in hand before it approves redistricting maps. It’s asking the lawyers to give the Washington court a nudge: “With high respect for the importance of that proceeding and the prerogatives of that court, this Court hereby requests both sides in the San Antonio proceedings to request, on behalf of this Court, that the D.C. Court attempt to rule on the Section 5 issues in time for this court to incorporate those decisions into its ultimate decision on the redistricting plans for the 2012 elections for the Texas House of Representatives, the Texas Senate, and the U.S. Congress.”
- The Texas judges say they are giving “serious consideration to whether a so-called ‘split primary’ will be required” for this year’s elections, and asked the lawyers to be ready to talk about it at the end of the week. They also want lawyers for the state to be ready to say whether the state would be prepared to reimburse counties and the political parties for the “substantial additional expense of a split primary.”
- The judges asked for comments on the idea of a presidential primary on April 3 with most or all other elections held later. The earlier presidential primary would relieve the Republican and Democratic political parties, which hope to have the primary elections well before their state conventions in June. The Republican Party of Texas has suggested the split primary on several occasions; the Democratic Party, in filings this week, said it would prefer a unified primary if possible.