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November 23rd, 2016:

Federal court rules there is such a thing as a too-partisan gerrymander

Worth keeping an eye on.

In a potentially transformative decision that could hobble partisan gerrymandering and restore a degree of fairness to many legislative races, a divided federal court held on Monday that Wisconsin’s state assembly maps are unconstitutional.

The court reached this decision despite a web of Supreme Court decisions that have discouraged, if not exactly foreclosed, lower courts from striking down gerrymandered maps — a testament both to the egregiousness of Wisconsin’s maps and the creativity of the lawyers who challenged them.

Whether Monday’s decision in Whitford v. Gill will amount to more than some excited headlines followed by a sinking feeling of powerlessness, however, is likely to depend entirely on how Justice Anthony Kennedy views this case when it almost certainly reaches the Supreme Court.

Whitford asked the court to find its way through a winding path left by Kennedy in his concurring opinion in Vieth v. Jubelirer. Though Kennedy’s four most conservative colleagues called upon courts to simply give up on trying to solve partisan gerrymanders in Vieth, Kennedy kept a single light of hope burning for Americans who want to choose their own lawmakers, rather than having lawmakers choose their own voters.

Though Kennedy fretted about “the failings of the many proposed standards for measuring the burden a gerrymander imposes on representational rights” in his Vieth opinion, he added that “if workable standards do emerge to measure these burdens . . . courts should be prepared to order relief.”

See here for the background, and be sure to read the whole post for the full explanation. Basically, this ruling says that if too many of one party’s voters are packed into too few districts, the map may be illegal. That could be a “workable standard” for judging such things, by Justice Kennedy’s reasoning. If this survives SCOTUS scrutiny it could have a significant effect in states like Wisconsin, where Democrats almost literally can’t win a legislative majority. However, if this standard were to be applied to Texas, the effect would be fairly minimal. Based on 2016 results, Democrats “should” have something like 62 or 63 seats in the State House. They actually have 55, with one race pending a recount though unlikely to change. The difference isn’t nothing, but it would be a few seats less if we were considering off-year elections, and in practical terms it wouldn’t change much. Be that as it may, this is worth watching if only to see if SCOTUS updates the standard it set in Vieth v. Jubelirer. A statement from the Campaign Legal Center, which represented the plaintiffs, is here, and Rick Hasen has more.

Collin County Commissioners Court are a bunch of jerks


Best mugshot ever

Best mugshot ever

In an attempt to lay the legal groundwork to quit funding Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s prosecution, Collin County is refusing to pay a longtime local attorney for his work defending indigent clients.

On Monday, the Commissioners Court voted 3-2 to block payment to J. Matthew Goeller, a McKinney defense attorney who has provided legal services to the county for more than 20 years. The county owes him $4,831.25 for defending a poor client who was accused of sexually abusing a minor.

The commissioners aren’t refusing to pay Goeller because he didn’t do his job. They’re doing so because they hope to set the stage to refuse future payments to the three lawyers prosecuting Paxton’s felony fraud case.

The decision means Collin County taxpayers could spend tens of thousands of dollars to fight paying a man who did nothing wrong, and whose job is unrelated to the attorney general or his legal troubles, in the hopes of cutting off funding for Paxton’s prosecution.

County Judge Keith Self, who voted to block Goeller’s pay, said this is the only way to respond to taxpayers who have called on officials to appeal the cost of the Paxton prosecution, which tops six figures.

“This looks like it’s going to be one of those ironic things that we may pay more per hour for an appellate lawyer than we did for the special prosecutors,” Self told The Dallas Morning News after Monday’s vote. “Our citizens are demanding that we come to grips with [this].”

See here for the background on this. Later in the story we learn that the attorney who is being stiffed was recently in a car crash that had an effect on his memory, and he is trying to rebuild his practice. I don’t know hw the three commissioners that voted to stiff him can sleep at night, but the real prize here is Paxton himself, on whose behalf this atrocity is being committed. Seems to me that the decent Christian thing to do would be for him to ask them to give up this fight, and he’ll work with them to craft a bill that would change how special prosecutors are assigned and paid so that counties aren’t faced with this going forward. But no, it’s all about Ken Paxton, and who cares who gets hurt along the way? What a despicable bunch.

UPDATE: Apparently, public pressure got to the Court, and they have reversed their decision to stiff Goeller. They’ll try to find another case to pursue their battle against the special prosecutors.

Texas blog roundup for the week of November 21

The Texas Progressive Alliance wishes everyone a happy Thanksgiving as it brings you this week’s roundup.