The Legislature might have approved a set of redistricting maps in the special session that ended last month, but the matter is hardly settled.
A panel of federal judges held a hearing Monday in San Antonio, where lawyers with Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office asked for the dismissal of the plaintiffs’ case alleging discrimination. The judges denied the request but then asked lawyers on both sides to submit briefs outlining arguments for how to proceed by later this month.
Plaintiffs maintain that the current set of redistricting maps for the U.S. House of Representative and the Texas House are racially and ethnically discriminatory. Attorneys for Abbott’s office believe the maps are constitutional and legal.
Also in Monday’s hearing, Jose Garza, a plaintiffs’ lawyer, said the so-called “bail in” process of the Voting Rights Act should require Texas to continue getting election law changes precleared by the federal government, based on the state’s “horrid tradition” of racial and ethnic discrimination. Other plaintiffs’ lawyers also called for the bail-in provision.
Texas had been required since 1975 to have new election practices precleared, but a ruling last week by the U.S. Supreme Court removed the burden from Texas and every other jurisdiction with a history of discrimination.
“Now, it’s important to continue with that because of its continued history,” said Garza, the lead lawyer for the Mexican American Legislative Caucus.
Lauren Bean, a spokeswoman for Abbott, said the plaintiffs are engaged in “a desperate effort.”
“Texas redistricting has been considered by the U.S. Supreme Court three times since the 2011 maps were passed and each time the Supreme Court came down in favor of the State of Texas,” she said. “Worse, these partisan groups are attempting to ignore the fact that the Legislature enacted new maps in 2013 and are seeking to subject the state to federal control on the basis of maps that no longer even exist.”
The ongoing redistricting battle began in 2011, when the Texas Legislature approved a trio of maps with new boundaries for both chambers of the Legislature and the U.S. House.
Before the maps could take effect, Texas needed — yet failed — to get the blessing of the federal government. Eventually, the San Antonio judges, who heard separate discrimination claims, drew a set of interim maps to get through the 2012 elections. Those maps — with minor changes to the Texas House plan — were signed into law last week by Gov. Rick Perry.
At issue now are the plans for the U.S. House and Texas House. All sides agree the state Senate maps is acceptable.