December 20, 2003
Justice Department OKs remap

I can't say it's a surprise, though it's certainly a disappointment, that the Justice Department gave its stamp of approval to the new Congressional map. They took their sweet time about it, and the Democrats have charged from the beginning that it was political appointees, rather than civil service employees, who were given the task, but in the end they did what I figured they would. The only surprise to me is that they released their decision on a Friday afternoon, the traditional time for the Bush administration to admit to bad news. Whatever else you might call this decision, it surely wasn't bad news from their perspective.

Coverage of the ruling and the predictable reactions from both sides of the battle is here, here, and here, while Byron has some quotes from the Quorum Report and the state Democratic Party press release. I'm going to quote from the DMN story, since it covers the main points of interest.


"The Department of Justice determined that the state of Texas provided sufficient proof that the proposed congressional districts do not deny or abridge the right to vote on account of race or color," said Texas Secretary of State Geoff Conner, the state's top election official.

[...]

Democrats said that the decision showed the fix was in, that right-minded career lawyers in the Justice Department were rolled over by political appointees, intent on boosting the Republican advantage in Congress.
"It means the Voting Rights Section staff was not able to withstand the political pressure from the top," said Gerald Hebert, a former Voting Rights Section attorney and one of the lead lawyers challenging the remap.

[...]

The Justice Department's one-page ruling, which it issued after many consultations with Texans who objected to the map, cannot be appealed and was required under the federal Voting Rights Act before the map could be used in the March 9 primary.

The ruling means that Justice Department lawyers found the proposed map the GOP-led Legislature passed in October did not have the purpose or the effect of causing minority voting strength to backslide.

The plan still faces a federal court challenge by minority and Democratic groups, under a section of the Voting Rights Act that protects minority groups' right to elect their candidates of choice a different standard than that used by the Justice Department.

"We still think we have a solid case in front of the court," Mr. Hebert said after the Justice Department decision. "You don't think it [the court] is going to be infected with the same sort of political influence."

After an eight-day trial, the three-judge panel hearing that case in Austin wrapped up the evidence and scheduled final arguments in the case for Tuesday.

[...]

Mr. Hebert, the Democrats' top lawyer, said an expert hired by the state, University of Oklahoma political scientist Keith Gaddie, recently provided a huge boon to the Democrats' case when he said in a deposition that Mr. Frost's current 24th Congressional District gives blacks an effective voice in electing a candidate of their choice.

The federal law prohibits the breaking up of any current district that effectively "performs" for minorities, Mr. Hebert said. Under the new map, Mr. Frost's district is dismantled.

Democratic lawyers objected to the state's last-minute decision not to have Dr. Gaddie testify. But Judge Higginbotham allowed the Oklahoma professor's remarks and a report he prepared especially for the state to be introduced into evidence.

Andy Taylor, a Republican lawyer who is leading the state's defense of the map, declined to comment on whether Dr. Gaddie's assertions about Mr. Frost's district helped the map's opponents. He said Democrats have failed to prove their case, and the state felt no need to offer their expert or further evidence.


On the subject of Martin Frost, if the new map is indeed upheld in the courts, he might wind up running against Rep. Joe Barton, who is currently in the 6th CD. This analysis, done by Another Rice Grad, disputes the claim that Frost serves in a minority-opportunity district.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on December 20, 2003 to Killer D's | TrackBack
Comments

Thanks for the link!

It'll be an interesting opinion to read. I think Republicans have a better shot based on the merits, but it could go the other way. We'll see what the judges say.

Since every new decade the Supreme Court changes the rules a little, what do you want to bet that they change the rules a little again this time (whether in the PA, CO, or TX appeals)?

Posted by: Another Rice Grad on December 20, 2003 4:48 PM

Won't surprise me at all. In fact, as one of the DMN articles recently noted, if the plaintiffs win in Vieth v. Jubelirer, the Republican case for redistricting here pretty much goes down in flames. Given that the SCOTUS ruling won't come for months, what happens if the three-judge panel here upholds the map? It'll be way past the primaries.

I won't make any guesses about how the 5th District court may rule. I agree it could go either way, though of course I think the Dems have the better argument. But we'll see. And for sure, whoever loses will appeal.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on December 20, 2003 5:20 PM