December 23, 2003
Final arguments

Final arguments will be given today in the redistricting trial. I'm not sure if the judges will have a ruling by today, but surely they'll have one soon. After that, it'll be on to the Supreme Court regardless of who prevails.

Yesterday the plaintiffs formalized a complaint they made previously by requesting documents from the Justice Department which they say will prove that the approval it gave to the new map was politically driven.

The Democrats want a copy of the memorandum written by the Voting Section of the department's Civil Rights Division in time to present it today in federal court in Austin. A three-judge panel is hearing final arguments in a lawsuit challenging the new congressional plan, which Republicans want to use in the 2004 elections.

"It is vital that the public and the three-judge panel have access to the Voting Section's recommendation before the start of closing arguments," said a statement issued by the delegation.

Justice Department spokesman Jorge Martinez declined comment Monday.


J. Gerald Hebert, a lawyer representing the congressional Democrats, has said sources within the department told him the agency's career professional staff found that the Texas map violated minority protections in the Voting Rights Act.

Hebert said he was told the staff was overruled by Republican political appointees. He has demanded a copy of the staff recommendation under the Freedom of Information Act.

"We urge the Justice Department to immediately release the Voting Section's memorandum so that the public and the judges will know what illegalities led career Justice Department employees to recommend against pre-clearing the Texas plan," the congressional statement said.

The statement was issued by Democratic U.S. Reps. Shelia Jackson Lee, Chris Bell and Gene Green of Houston; Lloyd Doggett of Austin; Chet Edwards of Waco; Martin Frost and Eddie Bernice Johnson of Dallas; Charlie Gonzalez and Ciro Rodriguez of San Antonio; Ruben Hinojosa of Mercedes; Nick Lampson of Beaumont; Solomon Ortiz of Corpus Christi; Max Sandlin of Marshall; Charlie Stenholm of Abilene; and Jim Turner of Crockett.

Though I expect the Justice Department to ignore the request even if it would refute the claim, the Democrats more or less admit that they're fishing.

In a joint statement, Texas Democrats in Congress said they were "outraged by the political subversion of the Voting Rights Act that led to the Justice Department's decision to pre-clear the new Texas plan." They demanded a public explanation "for why Attorney General Ashcroft allowed political appointees to overrule the Voting Section's professional finding that the proposed map violates Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act."

Democrats offered no proof of their assertion but said they could do so if they obtain the Justice memo in question.

For all the fussing, even the Democrats' lead redistricting lawyer, Gerald Hebert, conceded that even if he obtained the memo in time for Tuesday's final arguments in Austin federal court, it would probably have limited legal significance. The lawsuit involves different aspects of federal voting-rights law, and Justice decisions cannot be appealed to this court.

I've no doubt that John Ashcroft and his minions would not hesitate to overrule a decision they deemed improper, but I've been burned before by allegations of this sort, so I'll be tempering my enthusiasm for this line of inquiry for now, thanks.

Finally, the Austin Chronicle continues its outstanding coverage of the testimony and various backstories at the trial. Kudos to reporter Michael King for his thoroughness.

UPDATE: The ruling will come next week, according to the Quorum Report.


Higginbotham says not to expect a ruling until sometime next week

The redistricting trial heard by a three-judge federal panel has just concluded with Judge Patrick Higginbotham telling attorneys not to expect a ruling until sometime next week.

Higginbotham also said that it would be wrong to read anything into the question but he did ask attorney Andy Taylor, representing Attorney General Greg Abbott, what the State's remedy would be if part of the new plan, 1374 C, "needed to be dealt with."

Taylor said the court should give the state the chance to fix it. Attorney Paul Smith, for the Congressional Democrats, reminded the court that the state could not change anything without further pre-clearance by the Department of Justice. Smith said that other than for a minor problem, the court should stay "pure" and keep Plan 1151 C in place.

I almost feel sorry for the judges for having to deal with this during Christmas.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on December 23, 2003 to Killer D's | TrackBack