They’re waiting on Census data.
The U.S. Census Bureau has again pushed back the release of the 2020 census results — a delay that will almost certainly force Texas lawmakers into legislative overtime this summer to redraw the state’s political maps.
During an online presentation Wednesday, a bureau official revealed that the population numbers that determine how many congressional seats are apportioned to each state are expected to be released by April 30. The bureau has not finalized a timeline for the release of more detailed census results lawmakers need to actually redraw districts so they’re roughly equal in population, but the data likely won’t be available until after July.
“We hope to have a date in the near future that we can provide for when the redistricting data will come out. I cannot see that it would be before July 30 is how I would put this,” said Kathleen Styles, the bureau’s chief for decennial communications and stakeholder relations.
The 2021 legislative session ends May 31, but congressional and state House and Senate districts will need to be reconfigured ahead of the 2022 elections. Under the Census Bureau’s projected timeline, Gov. Greg Abbott would need to call lawmakers back for a special legislative session in the summer.
However, the delay announced Wednesday is likely to further fan questions among some Democrats over whether the redrawing of legislative maps can legally begin in a special session.
The state Constitution says state House and Senate seats must be redrawn by the Legislature during the first regular legislative session after the census is published. If they “fail” to do so, the Legislative Redistricting Board — a panel made up by the lieutenant governor, the Speaker of the House, the attorney general, the state comptroller and the state land commissioner — takes over the drawing.
With Republicans in control of both chambers, the delay in census data could provide a legal opening for Democrats to try to kick the legislative redistricting work out of Republicans’ hands and into the courts.
See here for the background. As I said, I figured this was going to be late, so I’m not surprised. The question of whether redistricting can begin in a special session is a legal technicality, and I’m not qualified to answer it. I am qualified to observe that a lot of the questions that were litigated in Texas during the 2020 election hinged on various technicalities, and overwhelmingly the courts ruled in favor of the state of Texas on those questions. Let’s just say that while I’m fine with pursuing a strategy of getting at least the Congressional map-drawing into the hands of federal judges (who by and large would rather gargle antifreeze than draw Congressional districts), I would not put a lot of hope and faith into the outcome of that strategy. To be fair, the outcome of having the Legislature do the map-drawing ain’t gonna be great either. I’m just trying to provide some perspective here.
An ancillary question is whether the delay in drawing the districts could force the primaries to be moved back as well. This is what happened in 2012, you may recall. The filing deadline for the 2022 primaries is December 15, and filing opens on November 15. I presume everyone will want a little time to figure out their options before filing for anything, so there’s likely to be a break between when the maps are ratified and when filing opens. Let’s say another 30 days for that, so that makes October 15 a functional deadline for getting them done without affecting the primary schedule. If the data is received on August 1 or so as suggested, then there’s probably enough time, though it will be close. In this DMN article, Speaker Dade Phelan says the special session could be called “as early as September”. That doesn’t leave a lot of time to get it done before filing season begins. Slip even a little, and I’d begin to assume we’ll have May primaries like we did in 2012. Let’s hope there isn’t another Ted Cruz out there to take advantage of that. NPR and the Brennan Center have more.