Redistricting action this week

It’s a busy week for redistricting lawsuit action, as the federal court in San Antonio is having hearings on the proposed interim maps that were submitted by the various parties to the suits. The Statesman has an overview of the action, both from San Antonio and Washington, DC. A lot of this will be familiar to you if you’ve been paying attention, but I want to highlight this bit, since I don’t think it’s been explicitly stated as such before:

J.D. Pauerstein, a San Antonio lawyer who worked two previous rounds of redistricting for Republican clients but is sitting this round out, said he doesn’t expect extensive changes to come out of the San Antonio court. He said if the judges draw interim maps, they’ll look to case law that has indicated that the court should give deference to the existing maps and the Legislature’s plan.

“You wouldn’t expect an interim plan to be radically different,” he said.

But in a surprising move late Friday, the Justice Department asked the San Antonio panel not to use the state lawmakers’ maps at all in the interim.

“The United States has taken the position that both the Congressional and State House plans were drawn with discriminatory purpose,” the department wrote in Friday’s filing. “Additionally, the United States takes the position that both plans have retrogressive effects in that they diminish the ability of minority voters in the state as a whole to elect their preferred candidates.”

Michael Li, a Dallas lawyer and redistricting expert, called the department’s decision to make the filing “extraordinary” and “unusual.”

As candidates watch the events in San Antonio, the Washington side of the fight could overshadow the Texas proceedings.

“What happens in D.C. will determine whether or not the districts passed by the Texas Legislature are used for future elections,” said Steve Bickerstaff, a University of Texas Law School professor who worked on redistricting cases over four decades.

He added that he expects the San Antonio court to act in lock step with the Washington judges and that the two panels probably have been working together all along behind the scenes.

The San Antonio court could disrupt the process only if the plaintiffs convince the judges that the state’s plan dilutes minority votes or violates the Constitution. But Bickerstaff added, “That’s difficult to do.”

The Texas attorney general’s office hopes to persuade the Washington panel to quickly grant pre-clearance.

But many people believe a speedy decision is unlikely.

Li, who also has a blog on Texas redistricting, said the Justice Department has made a strong case for why the pre-clearance case should go to trial.

“It’s hard for me to believe the court isn’t going to want to hear live testimony about the process that led to the maps,” Li said in an email.

See here for more, and of course keep tabs on Li’s Texas Redistricting blog for full coverage. Obviously, the degree to which the maps are changed for this election could have a huge effect on who runs for what where, and who is favored to win, in 2012. Will Harris County be given its 25th legislative seat back? Will Sen. Wendy Davis receive a district that is favorable to her? Will Lloyd Doggett and Joaquin Castro get separated? You pretty much can’t overstate the stakes here. The start of filing season is 13 days away, so one way or another we should get some answers soon.

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