June 28, 2006
SCOTUS throws out CD23, upholds the rest

The long-awaited Supreme Court ruling on Texas' re-redistricting of 2003 is in.

The U.S. Supreme Court today upheld almost all of Texas' Republican-friendly U.S. House election district map.

By a 5-4 vote, the court said the 23rd District in Southwest Texas, represented by Republican Henry Bonilla, was unconstitutional because its design violated the rights of some Hispanic voters. Reshaping the district, a task that apparently now is assigned to federal court in Texas, would force a change in at least one other neighboring district.

But the high court ruling preserved the other districts in the Houston area and elsewhere that were created by the Texas Legislature in 2003. This includes a Dallas-area district whose constitutionality was challenged by black voters.

The Supreme Court today also upheld the right of states to change their congressional district boundaries more frequently than the traditional every 10 years following each U.S. Census.

I wrote about this yesterday at Kuff's World. This is more or less what I thought was most likely. After all that's been said and done, at this point what I like the least is that the concept of redistricting whenever the mood strikes a state legislature has been upheld. I see very little good that can come out of that, even if in the short term Democrats could use it to extract a little revenge against Republicans.

State Rep. Richard Raymond, D-Laredo, a member of the House Redistricting Committee, said he believes the only way to fix the map is to put Laredo in one congressional district. The Republicans had split it between Bonilla's 23rd District and Democratic U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar's 28th District.

"There isn't an easy repair. Any time you've got to move 100,000 people, there's a domino effect," Raymond said. "The easiest fix is you put Laredo back together

I'm not sure at this point if the three-judge panel that originally upheld the new map will be tasked with putting a replacement in place, or if the Legislature has to do it; neither am I sure if this needs to be done for 2006, or if a special election will be required for some point in the future - this could include an open primary in November, as we had in 1996.

What I do think will happen is that at the very least CD28 will be redrawn as well. If it's possible to swap the CD23 portion of Webb County for an equivalent piece of CD28, that could work. What happens after that is a decision for CD28's Rep. Henry Cuellar. He nearly toppled CD23 incumbent Henry Bonilla in 2002 thanks in part to getting 80% of the vote in Webb County. He did knock off fellow Democrat Ciro Rodriguez in the 2004 primary on a similar show of strength in Webb, and he won again in the same fashion in 2006. Without Webb, Cuellar probably can't beat Rodriguez or someone like him with a strong base in Bexar County. With Webb, Cuellar would have a shot at Bonilla, but I don't know that it would be better than a coin flip. Either way, it's a tough call.

And yes, before anyone asks, I'll happily support Cuellar against Bonilla even though I was an enthusiastic proponent of Ciro Rodriguez this past March. It's a simple matter of mathematics, to wit:

Ciro > Cuellar > Bonilla

I'm sure I'll have plenty more to say after I see some answers to the questions I raised above. Stay tuned - this already crazy election season just took another big turn for the weird.

SCOTUS Blog has more, including a link to the opinion (PDF).

UPDATE: From the Statesman:

Redrawing [CD23] will force nearby District 25, the Austin-to-Mexico district held by Democrat Lloyd Doggett of Austin, to be redrawn, according to the court opinion.

Experts were still poring over the complicated 100-page opinion to determine how Texas will have to remedy the deficiencies.

And from BOR:

The three-judge panel will have the responsibility of deciding what to do with the redistricting map. The first decision is when they redraw the map for -- this election cycle, or the next. The second decision, then, is whether they will redraw the map themselves, and accept three maps from both Democrats and Republicans, OR whether they kick it back to the Texas Legislature for them to redraw the lines during the 80th Regular Session starting in January.

Exactly how far the dominoes fall, we'll have to wait and see. I'd imagine that CD 23, 28, 21, and 25 will have to be redrawn. As we wait to get more analysis, you can play around with an interactive Congressional map of Texas. Click on the "U.S. Congressional Districts" link to get to the map.

More to come soon.

UPDATE: I've put a statement by State Rep. Richard Raymond beneath the fold. Raymond was a plaintiff in the lawsuit, briefly a primary opponent to Henry Cuellar for this year, and a sure bet to run for Congress again in a Laredo-based district.

AUSTIN -- The United States Supreme Court ruled that the mid-decade Texas Republican plan to redistrict congressional boundaries "rode roughshod" over the rights of Hispanics in South Texas, and it must be remedied, State Rep. Richard Raymond (D-Laredo) said today.

The Court's ruling means Laredo will once again be unified in one congressional district and that other districts must be changed to accommodate the Court's ruling.

Raymond, who led the opposition to the plan in the Legislature, was the only state legislator who was a plaintiff in the lawsuit that challenged the redistricting plan engineered by former Republican House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

"I felt very strongly about this. The Court proved we were right to argue that Laredo and Hispanics in Texas were unfairly targeted," Raymond said. "This means that adjusting the districts to make them valid will affect several other districts, and that will make those districts more representative of the people of Texas."

The Court ruled specifically that splitting up Laredo and Webb County into Districts 23 and 28 was a violation of the Voting Rights Act, and that the adjoining District 25, represented by Congressman Lloyd Doggett of Austin, was also not in compliance. The Court said that the district court must now make changes that will make the districts lawful.

"From the very beginning, common sense told us that Laredo is one community of interest, and the only reason it was split up was to give the Republicans an unfair advantage so that they could elect another Republican to Congress from Texas -- at the expense of Hispanics, Laredo and South Texas," Raymond said.

At the heart of the Court's ruling was the importance of the Voting Rights Act, which is now also in danger in a Republican-dominated Congress. The Act must be reauthorized this year to prevent it from expiring next year.

"We have to keep on fighting for the Act. It is clearly an important tool to how we protect minorities in this state and how we make sure that the entire process of redistricting remains fair, transparent, open and democratic," Raymond said.

"I always had faith that the Supreme Court understood that the blatant power grab that DeLay carried out here in Texas was illegal, unconstitutional, unfair and un-American," Raymond said. "This ruling reconstitutes the civil and voting rights of millions of Americans in Texas and provides for more orderly change when change is required. But the Court should have gone further and invalidated the whole map and prohibited mid-decade redistricting."

The win was forged by an alliance of the League of United Latin American Citizens, the American GI Forum and the Washington, D,C. - based Lone Star Project, headed by Matt Angle, a native of Euless, Texas.

"Matt and his group did an exceptional job of coordinating information, the attorneys and the presentations. This shows the kind of victory that can be achieved when people work together, " said Raymond.

The state's population grew 23 percent from 1990-2000 and is projected to grow by an estimated 18 percent in 2000-2010. The ramifications of this decision should be self-evident: Texas faces a serious redistricting session in 2011.

"This is a huge state with many problems and challenges that need to be addressed by a government that represents all of the people, not just one political party. Education, water resources, transportation, the protection of the environment -- these issues cannot be left to the province of one party that marches lockstep to a philosophy that will hurt Texas in the long-run by excluding people and limiting the influence of others."

Posted by Charles Kuffner on June 28, 2006 to Killer D's | TrackBack

The Austin American-Statesman says CD-23 and CD-25 need to be redrawn. Those are the seats currently held by Bonilla and Doggett.


Posted by: PDiddie on June 28, 2006 11:17 AM

If they touch districts, can they mess with CD 22 and thus invalidate the primary and the problems with Delay's withdrawl?

Posted by: Michael on June 28, 2006 12:08 PM

Michael: It seems unlikely. The district court is going to read its mandate narrowly, and the districts in question don't come near the 22nd.

Stevens, BTW, (joined by Breyer) was pissed off that the 24th was cracked; he devoted his opinion to complaining that splitting Dallas's safe black district (even if it elected a white guy) into five white-majority districts was as clear a Voting Rights violation as anything else he'd seen.

I'm going to strongly agree with the Court that there's no prohibition on mid-decade redistricting. All the Con says is that you must re-district in response to the census; it does not imply "can only".

We need a federal constitutional amendment to mandate neutral district drawing. Fock the flag-burning amendment; this is important.

Posted by: Greg Morrow on June 28, 2006 1:00 PM

If you look at the numbers, they can pretty easily get another 100,000 Hispanic voters from the Bexar County portion of CD28 (there are more than 200,000 there according to the last cencus), if that's not enough there are another 60,000 in the Bexar part of CD21. If the Leg redraws the district, you can bet they'll try to keep Cuellar out of Bonilla's district.

Moving San Antonio voters from 28 to 23 may force them to bring in votes from Starr and Hidalgo (from 25) and make 25 more Austin-centric.

Posted by: JD on June 28, 2006 2:21 PM

What about Rick Bolanos, who has thrown his hat into the race long before the redistricting decision came down? Rick is a Vietnam veteran and isn't taking any money from special interest groups. Bonilla on the other hand has already built a war chest with over 2 million dollars for a congressional seat with the help of corporations and special interest groups. Rick is the kind of guy that needs the support of the net-roots movement the most! Please spread the word throughout the netroots community, especially for those in my District, TX23.


Posted by: ASam on June 28, 2006 10:26 PM

The 2006 elections can not be held under the current plan because it is no longer a legal plan. What will happen is that the District Court will decide on how to implement a corrective plan - making minimal changes to fix CD 23 (which will affect one or more nearby districts) - and a special open election will be held in November as happened in 1996.

In the early 1990's there were state legislative districts that were under challenge and not pre-cleared by DOJ in time for filing deadlines, requiring court plans to be implemented for some election cycles. Even after DOJ approval was received, the court-drawn plans were allowed to continue through the November elections if the primaries had already been held under the court's plan. In those instances, however, the court-drawn plans were legal districting plans. Such is not the case with the current Congressional districts.

Posted by: T-Flip on June 29, 2006 1:16 AM

anyone have a good idea what precedent this sets for other states that did or are doing mid-decade redistricting? specifically Colorado could stand to lose some serious ground if the Republican-led redistricting makes a comeback.

Posted by: Tom on June 29, 2006 2:30 AM

I guess most of you have not heard the powerful voice of Rick Bolanos ....I have been to his rallies and he is like a Martin Luther King....SA Express called him fiery, Boston Globe called him "passionate" and San Diego Union called him the "greatest hispanic orator of our times"

Posted by: Cathy on June 30, 2006 8:53 PM