Taking aim at the Voting Rights Act

In responding to a petition by State Rep. Marc Veasey and State Sen. Wendy Davis to intervene against the state in its lawsuit to get the federal court to pre-clear the new maps, the Attorney General responded by saying that the Voting Rights Act is too big a burden for it to deal with.

The state’s lawyers wrote that “subjecting the states to a suit where they bear the burden of proving, in essence, that they are not governed by recalcitrant lawbreakers is extraordinary in itself, albeit perhaps once justified by the historic exigencies of the middle 1960s.”


In the brief, the state’s attorneys argue that Rep. Marc Veasey and Sen. Wendy Davis, the North Texas Democrats who have filed to intervene, don’t have standing to join the federal case and shouldn’t be allowed to because their concerns are represented in redistricting lawsuits already filed in Texas.

Gerry Hebert, Veasey and Davis’ attorney, said they sought to get involved with the D.C. case because the judges are looking specifically at whether the redistricting plan reduces the minority opportunity for representation in the Texas Capitol and congressional delegation.

“That’s the purpose of the preclearance provision, to really put the burden on the state to prove nondiscrimination,” Hebert said.

Yes, that is the point. And the point of the AG’s response, which you can see here via Texas Redistricting, is to raise the question about whether the VRA is even needed any more so that (the GOP hope is) it can be narrowed or even voided. The GOP’s grand strategy all across the country is to make it harder to vote. This is part and parcel of that.

On a related note, Roll Call writes about the time pressure the court is under.

In Texas, either courts or the Justice Department must clear the new map before the Dec. 12 candidate filing deadline for the March primary.

Texas officials filed their case with federal courts last month, but there is no set time frame for a ruling.

It’s possible that the federal courts could strike down the map without giving state lawmakers enough time to pass a new plan and resubmit it. In that case, a three-judge panel would likely redraw the map — and it’s anyone’s guess what the final result would be. Candidates would run in the primary and general election under those court-mandated Congressional boundaries — and not those drawn by state lawmakers earlier this year.

The courts ultimately drew the Texas Congressional map a decade ago after state lawmakers could not agree on a plan. That ruling precipitated the infamous mid-decade redraw orchestrated by former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas).

“The Congressmen are deathly afraid of it being sent to the three-judge panel based on what happened in 2001,” said one Texas Republican operative close to the redistricting process.

The reason for that, as David Nir suggests, is that a judicial redraw could cost them as many as four Congressional seats. The basic math at play here is simple enough: Latinos accounted for 80% of Texas’ growth, but only one of the four new seats can be considered a Latino opportunity seat. Had the GOP gone with the Lamar Smith option of two new Latino seats, they’d likely have a much stronger hand to play. You never know what the court will say, of course, and however despicable most of their goals are you have to admit the GOP has done pretty well swinging for the fences these days, so let’s not put the postmortem ahead of the cart here. I do wonder if anyone is now ruing the decision to stick with the March primary date instead of moving it back, which would have allowed for more time to get a preclearance ruling. Hindsight.

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