Texas redistricting analysis: does Alabama SCOTUS ruling seal fate of Texas state House, Congressional maps?

Editor’s note: from time to time, we here at LettersFromTexas Worldwide Headquarters revisit the court action on redistricting on Texas’ legislative and Congressional maps, calling upon redistricting expert Russ Tidwell’s analysis. Here’s his latest, following recent U.S. Supreme Court action.

 By Russ Tidwell

The three judge federal panel in San Antonio is nearing a final decision on redistricting litigation for the Texas House and congressional delegation.

As previously discussed here, multiple weeks of trial have provided a mountain of evidence of intentional discrimination and dilution of the opportunity for minority citizens to elect the candidates of their choice. The post-trial briefs were filed in December.

However, it appears the panel in San Antonio was waiting for further guidance from the U.S. Supreme Court in the form of a ruling in an Alabama redistricting case. That ruling came down on March 25, and it was a victory for the Alabama Legislative Black Caucus and the Alabama Democratic Conference.  The San Antonio panel immediately ordered the Texas litigants to file additional briefs in light of this ruling.  The last of those was filed Monday.

The Alabama case involved claims of improper racial gerrymandering and provided significant clarification to this distinct line of case law stretching back to the Shaw case in North Carolina.  While minority plaintiffs in Texas felt they had adequately proven their claims of vote dilution and intentional discrimination, this ruling provided an additional clear roadmap for successful resolution of their claims.

The Supreme Court found:

We have consistently described a claim of racial gerrymandering as a claim that race was improperly used in the drawing of the boundaries of one or more specific electoral districts.

And this:

We have said that plaintiff’s burden in a racial gerrymandering case is ‘to show, either through circumstantial evidence of a district’s shape and demographics or more direct evidence going to legislative purpose, that race was the predominate factor motivating the legislature’s decision to place a significant number of voters within or without a particular district.

In response to the San Antonio panel’s order, attorneys representing the Perez Plaintiffs, LULAC, and the NAACP filed a brief outlining how the evidence already before the court supports racial gerrymandering findings under the Alabama opinion.  The brief documents the plaintiffs’ claims in eleven state house districts in Dallas, Tarrant, Harris, McLennan, Bell and Fort Bend Counties.  Reversing the fragmentation of these districts would re-enfranchise over 1.2 million people of color in these six counties.

While MALC’s brief was consistent with and supportive of the Perez/NAACP/LULAC filing, it made additional claims in Nueces, Midland/Ector and Lubbock Counties.  They rightfully argue that the Voting Rights Act (VRA) and the Fourteenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution should override the state’s constitutional “county line rule”.  This would provide for the creation of three additional majority Hispanic districts.

Various plaintiffs filed briefs regarding congressional claims under the Alabama decision, which I will not go into here.  However, in a previous post I discussed LULAC proposed plan C262.

Now that the Texas Legislative Council has loaded the 2014 election returns into their system and more data can be calculated, it is worth noting that the most recent and prominent Hispanic candidate of choice, Leticia Van de Putte for Lt. Governor, carried each of the nine Hispanic majority districts in that plan.  This further solidifies the Section 2 (VRA) claim for creation of such a plan with eight districts in the South Texas and border region that are majority Hispanic Citizen Voting Age Population (HCVAP).  These eight districts are at least as compact as the state’s plan. Additionally, C262 restores CD 25 in Travis County as a crossover district.

Now, it is all in the hands of Texas Federal Judges.  Watch this space.

 

Read other redistricting pieces by Russ Tidwell here

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