August 09, 2003
Weekend update

A couple of followups to the flurry of lawsuits that were filed on Thursday. Democrats are wondering aloud if they can get a fair shake from the Texas Supreme Court.

All nine justices are Republicans, and one, Priscilla Owen, has had her nomination to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals blocked three times by U.S. Senate Democrats.

Republican President Bush, the former Texas governor, nominated Owen for the federal appeals court. Bush's political aide, Karl Rove, has maintained an active interest in the Texas redistricting battle, discussing it with Dewhurst and at least one state senator.

Two state Supreme Court justices -- Wallace Jefferson and Michael Schneider -- were originally appointed to the court by Perry before winning election to the office.

Additionally, Attorney General Greg Abbott, who is representing Perry and Dewhurst, was a Supreme Court justice before resigning in 2001 to run for his current office.

"I would be shocked if there was not some reason for (Perry and Dewhurst) to believe the Supreme Court would take it (the lawsuit)," said Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, "and I wouldn't be totally shocked if they already knew the outcome."

But Jim Dunnam, chairman of the state House Democratic Caucus, said he believes the Republican leadership's lawsuit is flawed in asking the court to violate separation of government powers.

He said a court simply cannot order a legislator to take a specific action, including attending the legislature.

"It is so fundamental that this is a place where courts have no business that I find it difficult that even with a stacked deck that they're going to be able to assume any type of jurisdiction," Dunnam, of Waco, said.

My gut says the court will take the relatively easy way out and rule that it has no jurisdiction, which is the ruling that I'd expect any higher court to hand down anyway.

The last time the state Supreme Court was asked to involve itself directly in legislative affairs was December 2000, when the Texas Senate was preparing to elect a lieutenant governor to fill the vacancy left when Perry became governor after Bush was elected president.

The Senate wanted to hold a secret vote, but news organizations sued to force a public vote, claiming a secret ballot would violate both law and the state Constitution.

In that instance, the Supreme Court issued a narrow opinion that said the lieutenant governor is a Senate officer and the Constitution specifically allows the Senate to elect its officers by secret ballot. The high court avoided questions of whether the Senate was violating the open meetings provisions of the state Government Code.

Meanwhile, the Dems have criticized the recent visit by Republican Sens. Todd Staples and Robert Duncan at the behest of Lt. Gov. Dewhurst as a "sham".

"Let's make it clear. This was a setup. It was sham. They knew exactly what they were doing, and they didn't come here in good faith. It's pretty obvious they were already planning to file a lawsuit against us," said Sen. Juan Hinojosa, D-McAllen, one of the three Democrats who met privately with the GOP senators.

"They came here so they could say they tried to get us to negotiate and cooperate before they filed their lawsuit," he said.

That assertion was rejected by Dave Beckwith, a spokesman for Mr. Dewhurst, who said the meeting was "a serious attempt to communicate with them" to try to break the impasse. He also insisted the Democrats were not receptive to meeting with their GOP colleagues.

Byron and Rob will be attending today's anti-redistricting rally in Austin. I look forward to their reports from the scene.

Finally, the Chron does its usual anti-redistricting editorial. At what point do you think this will affect their endorsements in 2004 and 2006?

Posted by Charles Kuffner on August 09, 2003 to Killer D's | TrackBack