Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

The SD10 redistricting lawsuit gets off to a rousing start

I did not see this coming.

Sen. Beverly Powell

In a sworn declaration submitted as part of an ongoing federal court challenge, a senior Republican state senator with redistricting experience said he believes his party violated federal voting laws when it drew new boundaries for state Senate District 10 in the Fort Worth area.

“Having participated in the 2011 and 2013 Senate Select Redistricting Committee proceedings, and having read the prior federal court decision regarding SD10, it was obvious to me that the renewed effort to dismantle SD 10 violated the Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution,” state Sen. Kel Seliger said in a declaration signed in November.

The statement from the Amarillo Republican emerged this week as part of a dayslong hearing before a three-judge panel considering a lawsuit that claims the district was intentionally reconfigured to discriminate against voters of color in Tarrant County.

[…]

Seliger chaired the Senate’s redistricting committee last decade, redrawing the state’s maps following the 2010 census when a similar attempt to reshape the district was found to be discriminatory. A federal court in Washington, D.C., ruled in 2012 that lawmakers had discriminated against voters of color in dismantling the district and cracking apart their communities. As a result, the Legislature went back to restore the district’s configuration.

Seliger affirmed his declaration in a video deposition taken earlier this month — portions of which were played in open court in El Paso this week — during which he also said that “pretextual reasons” were given for how political boundaries were decided during the 2021 redistricting process.

Seliger pointed to the redrawing of his own district in the Texas Panhandle as an example. The district was reconfigured so that it lost several counties from the region while picking up about a dozen on the southern end of the district, closer to Midland, from where Seliger had picked up a primary challenger. He ultimately decided against seeking reelection.

[…]

On Wednesday, Seliger told The Texas Tribune that his statement about the illegality of SD-10 was “more of a concern than it was an assertion” of whether there was a violation.

“When you draw a map that essentially takes out minorities or, in what was more the point, take out the chance that there would ever be a Democrat elected there, was there a violation?” Seliger said. “It’s not an assertion on my part because I’m not a constitutional lawyer, but that was my concern about Sen. Powell’s district — to take that district and completely change it and it still marginalized minorities in that district.”

He added that there was a “context” surrounding the drawing of SD-10 — even as Huffman asserted she had not paid any attention to racial data in drawing its boundaries — that requires lawmakers to consider race.

“The Voting Rights Act says if you can create a district in which a historically marginalized minority can elect a candidate of their choice, you must draw that district,” Seliger said. “You start with that principle in every single district.”

See here for the background. Basically, he’s saying that the Republicans did the same things that they did ten years ago that were cited as illegal under the Voting Rights Act by a federal court in 2012. That’s a strong argument that the district as drawn now is also illegal, though it’s hardly conclusive. The previous lawsuit was settled rather than taken to a verdict, so the state will probably just argue now that they shouldn’t have settled then. It’s a good and unexpected (for me, anyway) start for the plaintiffs, who for now are just trying to get something like the old district restored for the 2022 election, but we haven’t heard from the state yet.

More from the hearing:

Two of Tarrant County’s local elected officials testified Tuesday that new political maps passed by Republicans in the Texas Legislature will dilute the voting power of minority voters in a Fort Worth state senate district.

The testimony from Tarrant County Justice of the Peace Sergio Leon and County Commissioner Charles Brooks came during a hearing in El Paso in one of several challenges against the state of Texas and Gov. Greg Abbott after the Republican-led Texas Legislature redrew political maps following the 2020 U.S. Census.

And although this week’s hearing is limited in scope — it pertains to one state senate district in North Texas — attorneys said testimony could foretell what is to come later this year when a slew of other redistricting challenges are heard in a consolidated redistricting lawsuit.

[…]

During testimony Tuesday in El Paso, De Leon said much of his Precinct 5 was originally in Senate District 10 before redistricting. But now, the Senate District has been split in two. This has shifted some Black and Hispanic voters — formerly in the northern part of his precinct — into a Senate District with more Anglo voters. Meanwhile, Black and Hispanic voters in the southern part of his precinct are grouped with rural white voters.

“They’ll have zero impact” on upcoming races, DeLeon said.

Brooks, who was first elected as a county commissioner in 2004, said redistricting has grouped Black and Hispanic voters with Anglo residents who do not share the same values.

“Their voices will be greatly diminished to the point of not being heard and effective in getting their points of view across,” he said, adding that his precinct is about 60% Democrats and 40% Republicans. But Tarrant County generally tends to vote Republican, he said.

Not quite as much any more. If these plaintiffs can get a favorable ruling, then that is probably a good sign for the others, though of course there are no guarantees and SCOTUS remains hostile to voting rights. If these plaintiffs can’t get anywhere, it’s hard to see how any of the others will fare better. If nothing else, we should have an answer quickly. Spectrum News has more.

Related Posts:

4 Comments

  1. blank says:

    I think I have been banging on this drum in the comments section for awhile now. The only surprise here is that it was Seliger who made the statement. But, his statement is SO self-evident that pretty much everyone involved likely believes it too, and no honest person would claim otherwise. The only reason they even tried to dismantle SD 10 again is because Shelby County allowed them to bypass preclearance this time around. However, Shelby County only removed preclearance, but it didn’t remove the entire VRA. I think I made an analogy with red light cameras in an earlier comment.

    Here’s my hope, which won’t likely come true, so it’s really just a hope. A group of Democrats and moderate Republican pass a revision to the Electoral Count Act that also restores preclearance. This restoration of preclearance puts a state/county back in preclearance if it loses or settles a voting rights court case, which is how it was proposed in the John Lewis Voting Act. Then, this SD 10 lawsuit results in such a loss for Texas, and Texas is under preclearance again. It’s unlikely, but adding the restoration of preclearance within the Electoral Count Act has been floated.

  2. Maisntream says:

    The court did not remove preclearance. It just said targeting which jurisdictions should be covered based on 1960 voter turnout was no longer fair. The reason Congress cannot get together and pass a new formula for preclearance is that places like Detroit, Baltimore, New York have worse minority voter turnout now than Charleston SC or Houston or Durham NC.

    There will be no appetite among Republican senators to add this to the Electoral Count Act legislation.

    The current configuration of Senate District 10 was not required by a fair reading of the Voting Rights Act. Black voters are no numerous enough in Fort Worth to be the majority of a single state senate district, nor are Hispanic citizen adults so numerous. The logic of the contorted district depended on a fiction that blacks and Hispanics are all alike, vote alike, have the same political interests, which is not accurate on closer analysis.

  3. blank says:

    The court did not remove preclearance.

    Okay, I will add the word “effectively” to my sentence. Here you go:

    The only reason they even tried to dismantle SD 10 again is because Shelby County allowed them to bypass preclearance this time around. However, Shelby County only effectively removed preclearance, but it didn’t remove the entire VRA.

    As for this sentence: The logic of the contorted district depended on a fiction that blacks and Hispanics are all alike, vote alike, have the same political interests, which is not accurate on closer analysis.

    I live in SD 10, and I have done plenty of analysis on SD 10 and surrounding areas. There is plenty of evidence that the minority groups vote together in the State Senate. If your argument had any validity, the Republicans never would have settled with Wendy Davis a decade ago.

  4. […] the Kuff looks at the developments in the SD10 redistricting […]