The first volley in what is expected to be a fierce war over Texas redistricting kicked off Wednesday in the form of a federal lawsuit filed by two Democratic state senators who argue that state lawmakers cannot legally redraw the state’s legislative maps this fall.
State Sens. Roland Gutierrez of San Antonio and Sarah Eckhardt of Austin are asking a federal district court in Austin to take over the work of drawing up new political maps for the Texas House and Senate to reflect the state’s growth in the last decade. Joined in their lawsuit by the Tejano Democrats, a political organization, the senators argue the Legislature cannot constitutionally carry out that work in a special legislative session.
The Texas Constitution states the Legislature “shall” redraw the state’s legislative maps “at its first regular session after the publication” of each decennial census. But significant holdups in finalizing the 2020 census delayed the release of the detailed population numbers needed to redraw those districts for several months — far past the end of the regular legislative session in May.
Having a court redraw legislative maps could help Democratic chances for a more favorable map compared with what the Legislature’s Republican majority might draw up in a bid to hold power for the next decade in a state that is demographically moving away from the party.
Congressional and state House and Senate districts need to be reconfigured before the 2022 elections to account for the state’s explosive growth in the last 10 years. The census’ August data delivery showed people of color accounted for 95% of the state’s population growth of nearly 4 million residents since 2010. The suit does not challenge the Legislature’s ability to draw a new Congressional district map in special session. Lawmakers must rework that map to add the two additional districts Texas earned because of its fast growth.
Because the Legislature lacks the authority to redraw the legislative districts now, the lawsuit argues, that obligation falls to the court to ensure the maps won’t violate the 14th Amendment’s “one person, one vote” principle for the 2022 elections. The Legislature’s next regular legislative session won’t take place until January 2023.
State legislative districts are meant to be close to equal in population, but the state’s booming — and uneven — growth in the last decade means that population counts in the districts are significantly out of balance.
It’s an interesting argument, and one that has been a part of the discussion of how Greg Abbott’s defunding of Article X in the budget could screw with the redistricting process in this fashion. I have no idea what the odds of success are, but there’s one very interesting tidbit in this that Michael Li highlights:
Because Texas legislative districts are malapportioned (have unequal numbers of people), they ask the federal court to step in and draw an interim map for 2022 (since they contend the Texas Legislature has no power to do so). #txlege 2/
— Michael Li (@mcpli) 10:46 AM – 1 September 2021
Suit does not affect the timing of congressional redistricting since the Texas Constitution is silent as to when congressional redistricting is to take place after the census. #txlege 4/
— Michael Li (@mcpli) 10:49 AM – 1 September 2021
That’s Republican Former Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court Wallace B. Jefferson acting as co-counsel for the plaintiffs. Lawyers have to make a living and all that, but this is nonetheless a very interesting choice of case for him to take. Given the likelihood that he’s set some bridges aflame, and given the level of esteem in which he is generally held, I have to think there’s some merit to this. We’ll see. The Chron has more.