Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

October 19th, 2021:

First lawsuit filed against the redistricting maps

Why wait? We already know they suck.

Before they’ve even been signed into law, Texas’ new maps for Congress and the statehouse are being challenged in court for allegedly discriminating against Latino voters.

Filing the first federal lawsuit Monday in what’s expected to be a flurry of litigation, a group of individual voters and organizations that represent Latinos claim the districts drawn by the Legislature unconstitutionally dilute the strength of their votes and violate the federal Voting Rights Act.

The lawsuit was filed in El Paso by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

The legal challenge comes as the Legislature rounds out its redistricting work to incorporate a decade of population growth into new maps for Congress, the Texas House and the Texas Senate. Of the 4 million new residents the state gained since 2010, 95% were people of color; half were Hispanic.

Yet the maps advanced by the Republican-controlled Legislature deny Hispanics greater electoral influence — and pull back on their ability to control elections. The House map drops the number of districts in which Hispanics make up the majority of eligible voters from 33 to 30. The Congressional map reduces the number of districts with a Hispanic voting majority from eight to seven.

Here’s the MALDEF press release, and the lawsuit itself is here. From the introduction:

Plaintiffs seek a declaratory judgment that the redistricting plans for the Texas House (Plan H2316), Senate (Plan S2168), SBOE (Plan E2106) and Congress (C2193) violate their civil rights because the plans unlawfully dilute the voting strength of Latinos. Plaintiffs further seek a declaratory judgment that the challenged redistricting plans intentionally discriminate against them on the basis of race and national origin. Plaintiffs seek a permanent injunction prohibiting the calling, holding, supervising, or certifying of any future Texas House, Senate, Congressional and SBOE elections under the challenged redistricting plans. Plaintiffs further seek the creation of Texas House, Senate, Congressional and SBOE redistricting plans that will not cancel out, minimize or dilute the voting strength of Latino voters in Texas. Finally, Plaintiffs seek costs and attorney’s fees.

Glad to know that the SBOW map won’t go unchallenged this time around. The plaintiffs include include the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, Mi Familia Vota, American GI Forum, La Union Del Pueblo Entero, Mexican American Bar Association of Texas, Texas Hispanics Organized For Political Education (HOPE), William C. Velasquez Institute, FIEL Houston Inc., the Texas Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents, and five individual voters. Defendants are Greg Abbott and Greg Abbott and Deputy Secretary of State Jose Esparza. I expect this will be the first of multiple lawsuits against the actual maps; we also have the still-untested lawsuit by Sens. Eckhardt and Menendez that claimed the Lege could not do non-Congressional redistricting in a special session. There’s supposed to be a hearing for that next week. Given that the three maps in question there might already be signed into law by that time it may be moot, but I’m just guessing. As you know I don’t have much optimism for any of these challenges, including the ones that haven’t been filed yet, but we have to try anyway. You never know.

Justice Department officially asks SCOTUS to halt SB8

The stakes are clear. Now we get to see if SCOTUS has any respect for the law.

The U.S. Supreme Court is considering whether to take up abortion providers’ challenge to Texas’ near-total abortion ban sooner than the high court usually would hear arguments.

While the clinics’ lawsuit has not been heard by a federal appellate court, the Supreme Court agreed Monday afternoon to expedite the request from several clinics and providers that the high court instead consider the case. Texas must respond by noon Thursday.

The move came just hours after the Biden administration — in a separate challenge to Texas’ Senate Bill 8 — asked the high court to halt the near-total abortion ban while the Justice Department’s legal challenge to the new restrictions goes through the courts.

In its request filed Monday, the Justice Department argued that allowing the law to stand would “perpetuate the ongoing irreparable injury to the thousands of Texas women who are being denied their constitutional rights,” it added. The Supreme Court previously declined to block the law from taking effect in a separate lawsuit, though it did not weigh in on Senate Bill 8’s constitutionality.

The U.S. Justice Department’s request comes after a series of federal court decisions flip-flopped on whether the law should remain in effect as its constitutionality is being challenged.

[…]

Texas, the Justice Department argued in its filing, crafted an “unprecedented” structure to thwart the courts. Senate Bill 8, which bans abortions as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, before many people know they are pregnant, has made abortion “effectively unavailable” after that time period, according to the Justice Department.

“Texas has, in short, successfully nullified this Court’s decisions within its borders,” the Justice Department wrote.

You can see the Justice Department filing here. The Justice Department had announced their intention to appeal late last week, so this was the actual filing and the request for relief from the ridiculous and lawless Fifth Circuit. The original lawsuit filed by the providers was in July, and we know what happened after that. Not really much to add here – even SCOTUS seemed to understand that SB8 had all kinds of questions surrounding it back when they first declined to step in. Now that we have seen the harm, not to mention the damage SCOTUS has done to its own standing, you’d think they would understand the need to do the normal thing and put that highly questionable law on the shelf while the courts do their thing. They have one chance to be seen as legitimate. I hope they take it. The Chron has more.

The Lege may fail to enshrine Abbott’s max anti-vaxx order into law

One bit of good news.

Legislation intended to block any Texas entity, including hospitals and private businesses, from mandating COVID-19 vaccines for employees has stalled out in the Senate with less than two days left in the third special legislative session this year.

State Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, said he opposes the bill, which makes entities requiring the vaccines vulnerable to discrimination lawsuits. Seliger said the legislation — added to the session agenda as a late priority by Gov. Greg Abbott — does not have the votes to pass in the upper chamber.

“At the moment it’s not too well developed,” Seliger said of Senate Bill 51, authored by state Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Tyler, calling it “anti-business.”

“I’ve got some real reservations because I think it’s another example of big government,” Seliger said. “And we don’t do that.”

SB 51 has been on the Senate’s calendar since Thursday, but the chamber has not taken action, even as it passed other priority legislation.

The special session is scheduled to end Tuesday, and the vaccine legislation is one of only a few outstanding Abbott priorities that appears unlikely to get through the finish line.

“It’s dead,” state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, said of SB 51.

[…]

More than two dozen medical and business advocacy groups quickly criticized SB 51, pushing back against the legislation in the days after it was introduced last week. Hughes filed the bill after Abbott asked lawmakers last week to take up this issue to ensure Texans aren’t required to get vaccinated, saying that vaccines are “safe, effective, and our best defense against the virus, but should remain voluntary and never forced.”

Abbott called for the legislation as he took executive action to ban private companies from requiring employees or customers to be vaccinated against COVID-19, which will be in effect statewide even if lawmakers don’t act. His order came four weeks after Democratic President Joe Biden announced that federal contractors must have all employees vaccinated against COVID-19 and that businesses with more than 100 employees must mandate vaccination against the virus or require regular testing.

The organizations opposing the bill, including several chambers of commerce, the Texas Association of Business, the Texas Hospital Association, the Texas Association of Manufacturers, the Texas Hotel & Lodging Association and the Texas Trucking Association, have warned lawmakers of the legislation’s risks to small businesses, workplaces that rely on federal funding and immunocompromised Texans.

The warnings were notable in a state where business interests work closely with pro-business Republicans to influence legislation.

“We’re getting tremendous amount of communications from the business community saying this is their job,” Seliger said. “They set the rules and working conditions in their places of business.”

See here and here for some background. From the jump there were stories of strong opposition from business groups, who are normally very friendly to Republicans, to this bill. Given that the session ends today, I’d say the odds that this bill dies with it are pretty good. But I don’t want to get too overconfident, because it is entirely possible that enough objectionable pieces of that bill could get filed off, and it would be at the top of the agenda for a fourth session, whether or not one is needed. So count this as a provisional win, and hope for the best from here.

More on the Spring Branch ISD single member district lawsuit

Good story from KTRK.

The unofficial dividing line for the two sides: I-10 running through the district.

With two boys in the district, Carla Cooper-Molano has seen the battle scars, and she wants someone on the school board who represents her family living north of I-10.

“If I communicate to the board, these are my needs, this is what I need, this is what my community at school needs, they are drowned by a much larger vested interest from the south,” said Cooper-Molano.

Cooper-Molano said the majority of SBISD students come from lower-income, working-class families, whose struggles range from paying rent to buying school supplies, to putting food on the table every night.

The disconnect comes when you look at the makeup of the current SBISD school board. According to a recently filed federal civil rights lawsuit, the majority of SBISD’s board members live south of I-10, in more affluent and less diverse neighborhoods. In fact, a person of color has never won a seat on the school board. According to the district’s own data, SBISD’s student body is 59% Hispanic, and 27% white.

The lawsuit alleges that having every school board member elected “at-large,” meaning they represent the entire district instead of neighborhoods, violates the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 because it dilutes the voting power of minorities. The plaintiff who filed the suit is Virginia Elizondo, a former teacher at SBISD with a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership. Elizondo ran twice for the school board, most recently in 2021. This time, she came up short against Chris Earnest, a Memorial area consultant.

Elizondo and supporters of the lawsuit are asking for single-member districts to be drawn. Under this scenario, board members will be elected to represent specific areas of the district, not the entire district. It’s similar to how the House of Representatives elects its members, and how Houston ISD elects its school board members. Houston City Council, for example, has a hybrid model. There are five at-large seats in addition to the district seats.

Nina Perales, the vice president of the Latino legal rights organization Legal Services for MALDEF, has fought similar battles in other cities across Texas. She explains that the plaintiff will need to show the courts there is no opportunity for minorities to elect a candidate of their choice.

“If the majority of voters consistently prefer one candidate, and minority voters consistently prefer another candidate, it’s simple math. The majority is always going to outvote the minority in every single seat,” said Perales.

See here for some background, and here for some demographic data about SBISD. The fight is contentious in part because a loud contingent of SBISD parents from the wealthy part of the district don’t think that the SBISD board is opposing it strongly enough, and they want to have one of them added as a defendant in the lawsuit. If the plaintiffs win, past history suggests they will be able to elect someone to the Board; a recent example cited in the story is Richardson ISD, in the Dallas area. I don’t know what the litigation schedule is – these things can take years to resolve – but I’ll keep an eye on it.