December 18, 2003
Over to the defense

Testimony for the plaintiffs should be pretty much over by now, and the state is expected to begin its case today. Yesterday's main feature was State Sen. Royce West, who spoke about the public hearings and District 24.

Mr. West said that by passing the plan, the Republican-dominated Legislature uncharacteristically ignored the wishes of witnesses who overwhelmingly testified at hearings against such a change.

"We did not consider the input," he said, reviewing the 10-1 ratio of witnesses opposing the proposal. "The Senate did exactly the opposite. We went against what the majority of people were asking us to do."

An attorney for the state suggested that the redistricting hearings were purposefully packed with anti-remap Democrats. Mr. West, who sat on the committee that considered the plan, countered that he encouraged constituents to attend but the hearings were open to everybody.

I attended one of those hearings, and the ratio was definitely in the 10-1 against range. If there weren't many Republicans there, it wasn't because they didn't know about it.

U.S. Rep. Chris Bell of the 25th Congressional District said he and other Democrats have activated their campaigns to get supporters to the hearings.

The Harris County Republican Party is doing the same thing, partly through e-mails featuring pictures of Houston-area Democrats. "She will be there to express her views," says a caption under an unidentified photo of U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee. "Will you be there to express yours?"

Maybe the GOP constituency wasn't as interested in the outcome as the Democrats were. Who knows?

Back to Sen. West:

Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz, defending the map, suggested that minorities were not especially well served by the current lines. For instance, he said, Mr. West, who is black, lives in the district represented by U.S. Rep. Martin Frost, D-Arlington, who is white.

Mr. West responded that Mr. Frost holds the seat because he has served minority constituents well and half joking because "I haven't decided to run yet."

Local activists provided the rest of the testimony.

Several civil rights activists have testified over the past two days that under the Republican plan, black people in Austin, Dallas and Forth Worth and Hispanics in South Texas would see political coalitions built over decades torn asunder.

The GOP plan splits minority communities that can now band together for strength and would cause their voices to become whispers in new, predominantly white districts, they testified.

"It dilutes our strength; it creates political alienation," testified Nelson Linder, president of the Austin chapter of the NAACP. "It's frightening, it's challenging, and it's very unfortunate."


[Robert] Starr, a former member of the NAACP's national board of directors, testified that under the GOP plan, Fort Worth's black community will be taken from an urban-based district, where it is influential in elections, and shifted to a sprawling district that reaches into the part of North Texas where he used to pick cotton.

"The persons who approved that plan have no respect for black persons in Tarrant County," Starr testified.

[Juanita] Valdez-Cox testified that under the new districts, the colonias she aids might well end up with a congressman who lives 300 miles away and to whom the plight of colonia residents will be a low concern. "It would be very difficult for us," she said.

This article notes that we could have a ruling from the court as early as tomorrow. That seems optimistic to me, but we'll see.

Meanwhile, the Express News notes the dog that has not yet barked in the night.

With only two days of trial left, the three federal judges hearing the case and the two dozen attorneys arguing the case are waiting to hear whether the U.S. Department of Justice has determined if the state plan violates the federal Voting Rights Act designed to protect minority voters.

Because Texas needs federal government permission before any election law changes can be implemented, the department's decision is crucial in determining whether the existing plan or the map adopted by the Legislature in October will be used in next year's election.

And the clock is running, as the deadline for candidates to file for congressional seats is just one month away.

"We fully expect the plan will be cleared, but if not, we have options," said state Solicitor Ted Cruz.

Those options include filing an immediate appeal with a Washington, D.C.-based three-judge panel or seeking a hearing with the U.S. Supreme Court.

Finally, the Austin Chronicle has an extensive overview of the trial so far and some of the background to it that's well worth checking out. They also have a few words on Vieth v. Jubelirer and its possible impact on the Texas case, as well as a PDF copy of the memos from Jim Ellis, Tom DeLay's local point man on redistricting, to his boss.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on December 18, 2003 to Killer D's | TrackBack

Michael King's Austin Chronicle article includes this statement:

In his opening remarks, attorney Morris Overstreet (former judge of the state Court of Criminal Appeals, and to date the highest-ranking African-American statewide official in Texas history, representing here the Texas Coalition of Black Democrats) recalled the Southern legacy of denial of voting rights to minority citizens ....

Although technically the Court of Criminal Appeals is of co-equal stature to the Texas Supreme Court, I still suspect that Texas Supreme Court Justices Wallace Jefferson and Dale Wainwright might find that statement amusing. But I guess they just don't count — and neither, I suppose, would former Justice now-White House Counsel Albert Gonzales — since they were elected as Republicans.

Posted by: Beldar on December 18, 2003 4:28 PM

D'oh! Forgot the other comment I intended to make, regarding the input from the "public hearings":

A rather more extensive and statistically valid solicitation of public opinion was conducted in November 2002, the results of which ended the divided state government that previously existed — a division that had deadlocked the first attempts at constitutionally required redistricting following the 2000 Census. By placing both chambers of the Legislature, as well as the governorship and lieutenant governorship, into the hands of one party, Texas voters in 2002 rather forcefully facilitated the subsequent redistricting. We call this process "representative (small-d) democracy," and it bears very little resemblance to what's going on at the federal courthouse in Austin right now. Indeed, it's the expression of that democratic process that the large-D Democrats are in court trying to undo, in large part based upon the smug and very overtly racist assumption that only large-D Democrats (including white males like Martin Frost) can ever represent minority voters' interests.

Posted by: Beldar on December 18, 2003 4:43 PM

Indeed, it's the expression of that democratic process that the large-D Democrats are in court trying to undo, in large part based upon the smug and very overtly racist assumption that only large-D Democrats (including white males like Martin Frost) can ever represent minority voters' interests.

Well, if you're going to cite the last election, then I'll note that minority voters also gave a pretty strong expression of their opinion at that time, and it overwhelmingly favored the Democrats. Many of those voters have sent Mr. Frost to Congress repeatedly because they believe he is doing a great job of representing their viewpoint. Now they're being told they can't have him any more because Tom DeLay needs more Republicans in DC. I don't see anything particularly small-d democratic about that.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on December 18, 2003 5:06 PM

A rather more extensive and statistically valid solicitation of public opinion was conducted in November 2002

This is a legal proceeding, not a popularity contest. Public opinion should not enter into the equation at all. The proper place for public opinion (politics) to have decided this issue is the political branch of government, the legislature. Opponents to redistricting simply don't like the result of political branch. They just want another bite at the apple.

Posted by: Greg V. on December 18, 2003 5:41 PM

Greg V, I don't think we're disagreeing with each other. My reference to the "solicitation of public opinion" obviously meant "as expressed at the election polls," not as canvassed in some opinion polling, and the voting public's preferences are indeed made manifest by the actions in the political branch of government through the people they elected. I entirely agree that it is through elections, and not surveys of public opinion, that the public's voice in redistricting matters should be heard; that is the essense of democracy.

Kuff, when you say that minority voters are "being told they can't have [Martin Frost] any more," that's simply wrong. It's not just an exaggeration, it's a fundamental misstatement. If minority voters were actually told that and if it were true — in other words, if there were some way that Tom DeLay could prevent Martin Frost from filing in a redrawn district and then prevent minority and other voters from voting for him — there'd be a very different lawsuit going on right now, and I'd be outraged right along with you. There indeed used to be those sort of methods — ranging from literacy tests and poll taxes to the less subtle techniques employed by lynch mobs — but thank goodness the laws designed to combat those methods, chief among them the Voting Rights Act of 1965, have been successful in eliminating them.

The fact is that Martin Frost, Lloyd Doggett, et alia are still absolutely free to run in one of the districts defined in the new map, and the voters in those districts are absolutely free to vote for them or not. That is the literal truth, and that is, again, small-d democracy.

Instead of saying, "they're being told they can't have him," you could say, "they're being told he's no longer going to be able to count on running in a district gerrymandered to ensure his re-election," and that would be factual. But it's hard to get too worked up about that factual statement; neither he, nor anyone who voted for him in the past, has a right to expect that past gerrymanders he liked would be maintained in perpetuity after his party lost its majority in the state government. Rep. Frost's changed circumstance, viewed factually and without the hyperbole, is indeed simply the result of a small-d democratic process — and it's one Rep. Frost certainly understands from the inside out because he's been on the majority-party side of the gerrymandering game himself.

Posted by: Beldar on December 18, 2003 6:53 PM

Well, Beldar, if it is decided that a state can redistict two times, why not three, four, or ten? By your logic, if in a couple of years we happen to get a state lege that is majority Democrat, they will have every right to gerrymander things back in the Dem's favor. Small-d democracy, right?

Posted by: DocG on December 19, 2003 9:40 AM

DocG, I think that would be bad policy (that is, an escalation of political hostilities that both parties would eventually come to rue), but neither illegal or unconstitutional.

Posted by: Beldar on December 19, 2003 2:45 PM