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Federal judge punts lawsuit to three-judge panel

Good news and bad news for the Senate Democrats, I guess. A federal judge in Laredo has called their lawsuit against redistricting “all but totally frivolous” but agreed to let the three-judge panel review it anyway.

U.S. District Judge George P. Kazen said he believes Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst’s push for mid-decade congressional redistricting is wrong and a waste of taxpayer money. However, Kazen also criticized the Democratic senators for fleeing to Albuquerque, N.M., to break the Senate’s quorum.

“We’re almost like the Middle East. We’ve got these two camps over here, and it’s total victory or total surrender,” Kazen said.

Kazen refused to grant the Democrats’ request for a restraining order to prevent the Senate sergeant-at-arms from arresting them in case there is another special session. Kazen also urged Perry not to call a session until the three-judge panel hears the Democrats’ lawsuit in about two weeks.

“Let’s chill out for awhile. Let’s stop spending the taxpayers money for awhile,” Kazen said.

The self-exiled Democrats had hoped to find a friendly judge by filing the lawsuit in Laredo. Kazen was appointed by former President Jimmy Carter. But the judge made it clear from the start of today’s hearing that the only reason he was not throwing the case out was that federal case law requires voting rights questions to be answered by a three-judge panel unless the lawsuit is wholly frivolous or fictitious.

“The agreement we’ve made is your lawsuit is not wholly frivolous,” Kazen told Renea Hicks, a lawyer representing the Democrats.

“That’s cold comfort, but I accept it,” Hicks replied.

According to the Statesman, the three-judge panel, which is the 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, will probably convene in mid-September. No word on the next session or the Dems’ return to Texas, but this AP report has some info:

Kazen told Max Renea Hicks, attorney for the Democrats, that he would not grant a temporary restraining order that would permit the Democrats to return to Texas. But the judge liked Hicks’ counter proposal that the Democrats be given 72 hours notice before Republican Gov. Rick Perry calls for a third special session on redistricting.

“Let’s all chill out for a while and stop, stop spending taxpayers money for a while and get this ruled on,” Kazen said.

R. Ted Cruz, the state’s solicitor general, said that he didn’t have the power to agree to a 72-hour advance notice but that he would take the idea to Perry and Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.

Once again, the Express News has the most interesting stuff.

“The issue is not whether it’s right or wrong, but rather if I should rule on it at all,” Kazen said, adding the lawsuit didn’t appear to be frivolous, either.

“Right now, I do disagree with you, but I don’t think it is totally off to disagree with you, myself,” he said.

Kazen said a solo judge should not act on voting rights cases unless the claims are “wholly unsubstantial or frivolous.”


Despite setbacks for both parties, each walked out of the downtown courthouse today resilient about their case.

“We got what we asked for, and that is a three-judge court,” Hicks said.

R. Ted Cruz, solicitor general for the state of Texas, said he’s confident that the courts “will resolve this in the appropriate way.”

“We believe under state law the answer is forward,” Cruz said.

The state argued the redistricting proposal doesn’t violate the voting rights of minorities and that because it hadn’t been adopted, the federal court couldn’t address it.

It was an argument that Kazen agreed with today. The judge told lawyers that when and if the redistricting plan passes, then Democrats can file lawsuits challenging it.

“That protection is there,” the judge said. “The question is, does it apply to the internal process?”

Cruz supplied the court with a Justice Department finding announced Tuesday that it didn’t.

One last bit of info is that Judge Kazen himself will probably be on that three-judge panel, so the Dems have their work cut out for them.

As always, stay tuned.

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    Yeah, I’m just getting back into the routine, here in Austin, so I’ll be back to covering the details of the redistricting fight soon, but for now, Charles has great coverage. Today, the Democratic lawsuit saying that Republicans intent to…

  2. BeldarBlog says:

    Judge Kazen drops back 3 steps, stops to fuss, then punts Truant Texas Demsâ„¢ to 3-judge panel

    US District Judge George Kazen to Dems: “Your lawsuit is all but totally frivolous.” Sen. Leticia Van de Putte: “The judge says our case has merit!”

  3. BeldarBlog says:

    Judge Kazen drops back 3 steps, stops to fuss, then punts Truant Texas Demsâ„¢ to 3-judge panel

    US District Judge George Kazen to Dems: “Your lawsuit is all but totally frivolous.” Sen. Leticia Van de Putte: “The judge says our case has merit!”

  4. Beldar says:

    Ack – sorry for the double-Trackback. Good compilation of press reports, thank you Charles.

  5. don says:

    “Talk to them,” Kazen told lawyers for the state. “Tell them I encourage that. Let’s chill out for a while and quit spending taxpayers’ money.”

    This is none of his d…. business. Arrest is next. Did the DEMS really thing the GOP would not continue the escalation. Two can play this game. Notice will only give them time to flee again. No notice. No negotiation. It is obvious the DEMS will do anything to win. So, No quarter shall be given or received. There will be no negotiated end, so there will only be one winner and one loser. And guess what, even if the GOP loses, they will be back again and again until guess what…..they redistrict.