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After the ruling – Now what?

Time to go through the news and see what we’ve learned since yesterday’s SCOTUS ruling on Texas redistricting. Before I get into that, let me start by endorsing what Matt wrote about the Voting Rights Act. It was important in 2003, it’s important now, and renewing it needs to be a top priority. Where do you think we’d be now if the staffers in the Justice Department who understood and respected the VRA had not been overruled by the appointed hacks when this Congressional map was up for preclearance? I don’t believe there would have been time to redo CD23 for the 2004 elections.

I should note that Rick Hasen and Amy Howe note a shift in the interpretation of the VRA by Justice Kennedy in his majority opinion. Expect to read a lot more about that in the coming weeks. (Links via Political Wire and Tom Kirkendall, respectively.)

One last thing before I hit the news stories: The one place where mid-decade redistricting is not likely to occur any time soon is Colorado. That’s because in their Legislature’s attempt to redo the lines in 2003, their State Supreme Court ruled that once-a-decade redistricting was a part of their state constitution. The US Supreme Court refused to grant cert on an appeal of that ruling in 2004. It’s possible other attempts at mid-decade do-overs will run into the same sort of roadblock, though at this time I have no idea where or even if other such restrictions may be in place.

OK then. Let’s start with the Chron, which dives right into the question of what happens to CD23 and Rep. Henry Bonilla.

Bonilla’s district cannot be redrawn without making changes to District 28, held by U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, and District 25, held by U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin.

The reconfiguration of Doggett’s district also may result in a three-way trade of Travis County voters between Doggett and 10th District U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, and 21st District U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio.

McCaul also represents western Harris County. Such a trade of voters would put the Republican district’s power base in Travis County and make it unlikely that a Harris County politician would win the district in a future election.

For the record, in 2004 the Travis County portion of CD10 went Democratic by an average 58-42 margin in countywide races and 55-45 at the statewide level, despite the lack of a Democratic nominee for CD10 on the ballot. It’s the Harris County portion of this district that makes it Republican. I’m skeptical that this district would change much, but I suppose you never know.

The Supreme Court sent the congressional district maps back to a three-judge panel made up of 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Patrick Higginbotham of Dallas and U.S. District Judges Lee Rosenthal of Houston and John T. Ward of Marshall.

That court likely will redraw the maps before the November election and set special elections in any districts where changes occur. However, it is possible that Gov. Rick Perry could call a special session of the Legislature to redraw the maps, but he indicated in a statement that he will be willing to let the court take the lead.

“We expect the panel to hold a hearing in the near future to address the timeline for the process,” Perry said. “I will work with Attorney General (Greg) Abbott in our state’s efforts to resolve this legal issue.”

While the Legislature could be asked to redraw the maps, that’s unlikely because of legal hurdles that would have to be cleared before the November elections, several redistricting experts said.

“It would be very difficult for the Legislature to do it in the time available,” said State Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, who sponsored the redistricting plan in 2003.

They can always redo it later if they don’t like what the court does. That’s what this all boils down to, doesn’t it? And just so we’re all clear on that, I refer you to this statement in the Star Telegram:

Gov. Rick Perry, declaring the decision a victory for the state, said the next step will probably be a hearing by the three-judge panel that had upheld the plan. A spokeswoman, Rachael Novier, left open the possibility that the Republican governor would summon lawmakers back to Austin to remedy the court’s concerns.

Asked whether Perry adheres to past statements that redistricting should be left to the Legislature and not the courts, Novier said, “Absolutely.”

Except of course when he thinks it suits his purposes, as was the case in 2001. Those were the days, huh?

Back to the Chron:

Bonilla said the Supreme Court’s decision about his district is “more of a nuisance than anything else” because instead of concentrating on re-election he will have to worry about what the three-judge court will do. He said the Legislature should be in charge of redrawing the map.

“People aren’t clamoring in neighborhoods to count how many brown faces are in this polling area or how many black faces or whatever,” Bonilla said. “This is a cause driven more by what I call the professional minorities.”

Bonilla said he also thought Cuellar would want to avoid going head-to-head with him in a special election.

“He has a scot-free election,” Bonilla said. “I don’t know that he would be interested in getting involved in a titanic battle.”

Cuellar said he was talking to lawyers to determine the impact of the court’s decision.

“I’ve always been able to land on my feet. I think we are going to be fine,” he said.

I’m sure Bonilla feels confident that his homeboys will protect him again as they did in 2003 after his little scare against Cuellar. The Statesman picks up on that.

The crucial decision for Republicans will be how to redraw Bonilla’s district.

If they suggest putting Laredo wholly in his district, then a senior member of the GOP delegation will face a tough battle against Cuellar in a majority Latino district. But GOP advisers said Bonilla might be saved by pinching off Latinos from the edges of other districts so he would not be pitted against Cuellar.

Neither Bonilla or Cuellar would welcome a showdown.

“I think you can fashion a remedy without necessarily pairing Bonilla and myself together,” Cuellar said. “The knee-jerk reaction is to get them from Webb County. . . . Laredo is not the only magical place to get Hispanics. The court didn’t say, ‘Get Hispanics from Laredo.’ The court said, ‘Get Hispanics.’ ”

I took a look at the Teaxs redistricting page to see what happened in the old 23rd District in 2004. The Republican index went from 47.5% in 2002 to 56.4% in 2004 there. That almost undoubtedly reflects the difference between having Tony Sanchez on the ballot, and having George Bush on it. Nonetheless, it reinforces what I said yesterday about Cuellar’s choice. Even if Laredo/Webb County is moved wholesale back into CD23, Cuellar would need a huge performance there, and he’d still need to overcome Bonilla’s advantages elsewhere. And he’d have to do it without a local turnout enhancer like Sanchez at the top of the ticket. Cuellar proved that he’s a pretty good draw by himself in the 2004 and 2006 primaries, but this is a tall order.

Bonilla, whose support among Latinos has dropped over the years, said he would prefer that state lawmakers, not judges, make the fix. He added that he saw no need to hurry toward a solution.

“Logistically it would be so difficult now to make a huge change before the November elections, that it would probably be wise to wait for the Legislature to do it when they convene next year,” Bonilla said. “The clock’s ticking between now and November – why not just let this election go?”

Doggett disagreed, saying that to wait would mean holding an election under an illegal map: “I don’t know if that has ever happened before.”

The judicial panel has not announced a timeline for reacting to the Supreme Court’s decision, but most Capitol observers don’t expect the judges to allow the issue drag out beyond the November elections.

If either the judicial panel or the Legislature acted quickly, another round of primaries could be required this fall for districts that are changed.

Or, as happened in a similar redistricting scenario in 1996, there might be an open ballot for congressional candidates. Under that plan, the number of candidates would not be limited by political affiliation, and the winner would have to get a majority.

The reality, however, is that there are few opponents who would have the money or name identification to challenge incumbents, including Doggett, on such short notice.

I still don’t see anything definitive as to timing, but I agree with Doggett in that I think there will be a new plan in place for November. And I agree with Nathan Persily when he says that if it’s the three-judge panel doing the dirty work, they’ll aim for as narrow a fix as they can. It’s not out of the question at all that Bonilla and Cuellar could be back in CDs 23 and 28 without much more than token opposition this time. Next time, though, who knows?

Once more on Bonilla from the Express News:

Redistricting experts said the districts most likely affected by the ruling, in addition to Bonilla’s, include those now represented by Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo; Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio; Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin; Ruben Hinojosa, D-Mercedes; and Solomon Ortiz, D-Corpus Christi.

Perales and others want new boundaries drawn before the fall election.

“There’s ample precedent for it to be done in a timely manner,” said Ed Martin, a Democrat consultant and redistricting expert. “The people whose rights have been trampled from one election cycle shouldn’t be denied those rights again. They should not be asked to wait and have their rights denied for two more years.”

Redrawing Bonilla’s district could mean changes in Cuellar’s neighboring District 28, which includes half of Laredo and Webb County that once was part of District 23.

“That’s going to be the question: How do we fix Henry Bonilla’s unconstitutional district?” said Webb County Democratic Chairman Javier Montemayor, who favors leaving District 28 alone. “One of the attempts probably will be to take Hispanic voters out of Webb County and give them to Bonilla. I don’t think that’s a solution.”

What about CD25? The Laredo Morning Times looks at it from the local perspective.

District 23’s proximity to the Rio Grande Valleys District 25, and possibly Rep. Ruben Hinojosa’s District 15 to the east, means remapped congressional lines inevitably will have an effect on the Valley.

Several Democrats praised the Supreme Courts recognition of what they perceive as partisan mischief and envisioned the growing Valley as its own congressional district.

“We have nothing in common with the people of Travis County,” said state Rep. Ismael “Kino” Flores, D-Mission, who serves on the House redistricting committee. He was referring to the 300-mile-long, north-south stretch of land from the Rio Grande to Austin that [Rep. Lloyd] Doggett now represents.

“I think everything south of Falfurrias and as far as Zapata (County) and the Hidalgo County line would be District 25,” he said.

The ruling could affect all of Texas and align similar communities within a district, said state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, a McAllen Democrat and one of the leaders of the Democratic challenge to the Republican map.

“Its going to have a domino effect, and you will see more compact districts and not the fajita strips we have from McAllen to Austin,” he said.

“It is a sweet victory, especially after all the criticism we received fighting (former U.S. House Majority Leader) Tom DeLay.”


“Latinos were dealt a bad hand,” said Juan Maldonado, chairman of the Hidalgo County Democratic Party. “(Rep. Henry) Bonilla is not our congressman, not our party and doesnt represent our interests.”

Doggett said he is waiting for the three-judge panel to determine the remapping procedure.

“LULAC and I would be ready to go (on redistricting) next week,” he said.

LULAC is the League of United Latin American Citizens, an advocacy organization that had filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court stating that the Republican redistricting plan eroded minority voting power in Texas and thus was illegal and unconstitutional.

“The sooner these lines can be drawn legally, the better off everyone will be,” Doggett said.

As far as that goes, the LMT observed elsewhere:

A clerk for the federal judges in Marshall said Wednesday that the judges had not yet received the official mandate from the Supreme Court.

The time it takes to get the formal paperwork, coupled with the fact that the judges dont have a set meeting schedule, means it could take a few weeks before things start rolling.

Finally, two other matters to discuss. One, in the Express News, is the idea of nonpartisan redistricting, which inevitably pops up whenever this subject arises:

Rep. Robert Puente, D-San Antonio said he favors a plan long advocated by Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, that would take redistricting out of the hands of self-interested politicians and empower the public to redraw political lines.

Wentworth has been pushing the idea since 1993 and plans to do so again next year.

And from the Morning News, what about mid-decade redistricting as a concept?

Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, one of the few targets of redistricting to survive, said Wednesday he will introduce legislation barring states from redrawing congressional lines more than once each decade.

I have more faith in the Wentworth bill finally passing than I do in Edwards’ bill, and I have very little faith in Wentworth’s bill. Not that I don’t think either effort isn’t worthwhile – I do – I just don’t believe that enough legislators share that sentiment.

On the opinion side, both the Statesman and the Chron have their say. Larry Stallings has the State House Democrats’ response, while Vince reminds us all of the phone number for the Ardmore Holiday Inn. (He’s kidding, I hope.) I have some longer statements from the Lone Star Project beneath the fold. And last but not least, Strange Bedfellows takes a fond look at the street in Austin where three Congressional districts meet.

UPDATE: Rick Bolanos, the current candidate against Bonilla, weighs in:

In spite of the furtive attempts by Mr. Bonilla and his cohorts to violate the constitutional rights of our nation, I will continue my campaign to give all the voters of the 23rd congressional district the type of ethical, fervent and passionate representation that they have so long been denied and that they so dearly deserve. I want to personally thank LULAC for their relentless pursuit of justice for those Hispanics who were oppressed by the misguided, avaricious actions of the present administration.

Full statement at Dos Centavos.

Statement of J. Gerald Hebert
Executive Director of the Campaign Legal Center & Counsel for the Texas Congressional Democrats in the Texas Redistricting Lawsuits

Today’s decision shows this was a challenge worth bringing. The fact that nine Justices filed six different opinions, each with subparts, says a lot about how splintered and difficult these issues were for the Court. Ultimately, justice and fairness is always a goal worth pursuing, and the fact that the Court found the map violated the rights of Latino voters in South Texas shows the fight was worth it.

This case was never about officeholders or incumbents, it wasn’t even about Democrats and Republicans. It was about protecting the voting rights of all Texans, particularly minority voters.

While I am disappointed the Court did not find a mid-decade redistricting done solely for partisan gain was unconstitutional, today’s decision does leave open the possibility that in some future case a claim of partisan gerrymandering might prevail. Five Justices still believe a partisan gerrymandering challenge to a redistricting map may still be brought and they have left open the possibility that a standard could emerge in some future case that would give legs to such a claim.

This case was an extreme example of a partisan gerrymander, and the Court says today that replacing a perfectly valid map in mid-decade solely for partisan gain is not impermissible under the Constitution. In doing so, the decision could open the floodgates for partisan re-redistricting. Today’s decision points to the very serious need for meaningful redistricting reform so that independent commissions, and not partisan gerrymandering politicians, get to draw the lines.

From the Desk of Martin Frost

June 28, 2006
Contact: (202) 547-7610

Former Congressman Martin Frost released the following statement today:

The challenge to Tom DeLay’s map was never about Democrats or Republicans or any politician. It was about protecting voting rights and reigning in blind political greed. It has been an important fight, and I am proud of the Texans who were willing to stand up to Tom Delay, Rick Perry, and the partisan Justice Department to protect voting rights.

I am disappointed the Court allowed mid-decade redistricting solely for partisan gain to stand, and it saddens me that the Court did not protect the voting rights of African Americans and other minorities in North Texas. However, I am pleased that the Court recognized that the voting rights of South Texas Hispanics had been trampled upon.

I hope that the District Court will quickly provide a remedy that restores voting rights to South Texas Hispanics and requires that their remedy be enforced for the 2006 elections.

The Right to Vote is Worth Fighting For

By Texas Senator Leticia Van de Putte

I do not know anybody who does not love the 4th of July. Independence Day is the most important civic holiday of the year, and for many Americans it means family, friends, and fireworks.

But Independence Day means so much more than that. It honors the birth of democracy. It is a day to celebrate our hard-fought freedoms. It is a time to remember how precious our American rights are, and how much it cost those who came before us to ensure that we have them.

But the fighting is not over. History shows that those who stop fighting for their rights lose them. Even now, the most fundamental right of participatory democracy, the right to vote, is under constant attack. Of course, nobody will admit that their goal is to take away your right to vote, or to ensure that your vote does not count. It is far more subtle and sophisticated than that. But nevertheless that is exactly what is happening.

It started with the mid-decade redistricting, which architects have admitted was designed to make Congressional districts so overwhelmingly Republican or Democratic that politicians would never again have to compete for your support in November elections. In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court just overturned some of the map, and agreed that the state ran roughshod over the rights of South Texas minority voters when they drew it. This illegal power-grab was an attempt to leave out minority voters from any meaningful decision-making at the polls, and a scathing attempt for politicians to choose their voters, instead of voters choosing their politicians. Americans are being left behind.

It has continued through efforts in over 20 states, including Texas, to pass a law that would force voters to produce multiple forms of identification, including photo ID, at polling sites before being allowed to cast a ballot. Proponents of the legislation claim that it is to prevent voter fraud, but they have failed to produce a single case of fraud that this measure would prevent. Meanwhile, it would create insurmountable barriers to voting for low-income and elderly voters who do not drive, and thus do not have licenses. In Georgia, which has already passed the law, analysts estimate that about 675,000 voters there lack the required photo ID. Americans will be left behind.

Most recently, a small group of Republicans in Congress has even stopped, at least temporarily, the re-authorization of the Voting Rights Act, surprising their own Republican leadership. First passed in the 1960’s as literacy tests, poll taxes, and other disdainful methods of preventing minorities from voting prevailed, the Voting Rights Act is among the most important pieces of civil rights legislation ever to pass the United States Congress, and is crucial to the continuation of free and fair elections in which all legitimate voters are welcome. One of those blocking the legislation even claimed that racial bias no longer exists in Texas, then suggested that voters who can’t read, write, and speak English shouldn’t be allowed to participate. This is nonsense. More Americans would be left behind.

There are those who want to chip away at our absolute right to vote, and if we stop fighting for it they will prevail. We must have zero tolerance for this. There is no better time than Independence Day to remind ourselves and our lawmakers that nothing is more important in a democracy than preserving the right to vote.

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  1. Aaron Smith says:

    The Republicans on the three Judge Panel – assuming they maintain jurisdiction – will try to make minimal changes.

    The issue is how much must CD 23’s Hispanic population must be increased in order to make the district constitutional. Is it 5%? Is it 11%? No one knows.

    But the SCOTUS clearly said they expect CD 25 to be redrawn as a consequence.

    CD 28 will be impacted simply because it is impossible not to.

    Webb County could end up in all of CD 28 – or a revised CD 25 which will not come this far North. That would give Cuellar a big advantage in a new CD 25. His home county is south of Laredo.

    Richard Raymond has publicly said he will not challenge Bonilla – several times. His target is Cuellar.

    Bonilla’s district could pick up Hispanic strength in Frio, Atascosa and by driving it deeper into South Bexar County – not necessarily fatal changes.

    Ironically, the two victims of this could be Doggett and/or John Courage. If Bonilla is required to shed Republican areas of Bexar County or the German belt counties of Kerr, Kendall or Bandera – those could go to Lamar Smith and make his district even stronger Republican.

    Smith could be forced to shed Western Travis County precincts to McCaul, stengthening him even further.

    Southeast Travis County could end up in a revised 15th district represented by Ruben Hinojosa and intended to be represented by a Hispanic.

    So Doggett could be forced to choose to run in a revised 10th district or 21st district (that are even more unfriendly) or take on a fellow Democrat Incumbent – no one knows at this point.

    So before everyone starts ranting – this is just speculation. So hold your jets. It’s just important to consider all possibilities.

    So everyone should proceed cautiously. Expereince teaches us that federal courts – and federal court masters – can be very unpredictable.

  2. Mathwiz says:

    My gut reaction is that this is bad news for Bonilla. Not only will CD23 get more Hispanic voters, but they’ll be energized by the GOP’s pandering to the anti-immigrant Right.

    That said, it’s wise to keep Aaron’s above comments in mind. The 5th Circuit panel will do everything they can to save Bonilla without endangering other Republicans. A likely possibility would be to sacrifice Cuellar by moving much of his base into CD23.

    Still, that could well result in replacing Cuellar with a more liberal Democrat in CD28. Frankly, I don’t have a problem with that.

  3. JRyan says:

    Is it possible to slice up Webb County and part of Laredo so as to leave Cuellar in CD 28, but as a weakened candidate in a San Antonio-heavy district? I agree that Webb will probably have to be sliced up in some way, but if the Court leans away from tossing Cuellar back into Bonilla’s district, would they take some middle of the road path that might still weaken Cuellar but keep him within CD 28? It might be a strange, non-contiguous district, but I think this may be a possibility..I’d like to hear your comments.

    J. Ryan