September 12, 2003
Federal panel rejects Dem lawsuit

No surprise, really.

A three-judge federal panel in West Texas today dismissed a lawsuit filed by senate Democrats hoping to derail a new round of redistricting in Texas.

The Democrats argued that Senate rule changes by Republicans to further the redistricting effort violated federal law.

The judges, who listened to two hours of oral arguments Thursday in Laredo, dismissed those claims but withheld a decision on an amended complaint of threats to arrest Democrats and require them to pay fees for their failure to appear at a special legislative session on redistricting.

"The arrest issue likely will become moot," the judges wrote in their opinion. Democrats "fear of being coerced to appear at a legislative session is shifting to a fear of being prevented from appearing. For reasons discussed at the hearing, neither the facts nor the law on the issue of threatened monetary sanctions are sufficiently developed at this point to permit an informed decision. Moreover, it is possible that future developments could also moot this issue."


During the court hearing Thursday, judges closely questioned the Democrats' attorney, Paul Smith, who argued that dropping a Senate rule requiring two-thirds of the 31 members to agree to debate a bill violated the federal Voting Rights Act, enacted to protect minority voters.

"This is a very significant piece of how the Legislature operates," Smith said of the long-standing rule, which was eliminated by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst after it was used to stymie redistricting during the first special session.

The judges seemed wary of Smith's arguments in light of a ruling last month by the Justice Department that the Voting Rights Act provision on getting prior approval of changes that may impact minority voters does not apply in this case.

The panel also seemed comfortable with an argument by state Solicitor General Ted Cruz, representing Republican officials, that the Democrats were in court too soon because no redistricting has taken place.

"There has been no clear action. Nothing has been done yet," Cruz said. "At this point the Legislature is arguing back and forth about what it might do."

Full report later when the papers have non-AP wire stories. Note that the issue of sanctions and arrest warrants is still in play, though it could be rendered moot by the Senate if they choose to drop the issue.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on September 12, 2003 to Killer D's | TrackBack

As always, thanks for the thorough linkage to the press coverage, Kuff. :)

I've got the actual opinion linked for those who are interested (what Quorum Report has up is only a minute entry from the clerk's docket sheet), plus an explanation for why the decision probably isn't appealable, plus an argument for why it shouldn't be appealed even if it is, for those who are interested and don't take undue offense at my right-of-center slant.

Posted by: Beldar on September 13, 2003 9:27 PM