Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Voting Rights Act

Supreme Court rejects mandamus over Commissioners Court redistricting

The primary will proceed as scheduled, but the issue could be revisited sometime after the 2022 election.

The Texas Supreme Court rejected an effort by Republican commissioners and voters to block Harris County’s recent redistricting plan on Friday, suggesting another challenge still in the works will meet a similar fate.

In their challenge, the petitioners argued that the new maps amounted to illegal Democratic gerrymandering. The new precincts approved by Harris County leaders last year resulted in dramatic shifts that the challengers argued would disenfranchise voters in the upcoming primaries.

But in a narrow ruling, the justices found that they likely couldn’t provide any relief to the challengers because the wheels of the election were already in motion.

“(N)o amount of expedited briefing or judicial expediency at this point can change the fact that the primary election for 2022 is already in its early stages,” their opinion read. “This Court and other Texas courts are duty-bound to respond quickly to urgent cases that warrant expedited proceedings, but even with utmost judicial speed, any relief that we theoretically could provide here would necessarily disrupt the ongoing election process.”

The result is that the new precinct maps will be allowed to stand. The Democratic majority on commissioners court adopted the maps on a 3-2 party line vote in October.

See here and here for the background, and here for a copy of the opinion, which is also embedded in the story. It’s fairly brief and pretty straightforward, so let me summarize:

– The current map violates federal law because of population differences among the four precincts. It was not an option for the court to order that the current map be used while the appeals played out.

– The court ruled that their role in redistricting is limited, and that they did not have nearly enough facts to go on, as many of the plaintiffs’ claims remain in dispute. The burden required to make them step in and halt or change the election, which is already underway, was far too high for them to take action on such a short notice.

– Regarding the (ridiculous) claim about people being disenfranchised because they would have to wait until 2024 to vote when they had been expecting to vote in 2022, the court noted that some number of people will always be in that position when redistricting occurs. The Constitution requires the State Senate (which like Commissioners Court has staggered four-year terms) to have everyone run after redistricting, but there’s no such requirement for Commissioners Courts, which moved to four-year terms by an amendment in 1954. Ordering all four precincts to be on the ballot in 2022 was rejected because of the limited time for anyone who might run in the other precincts to get going. The court also noted that any short-term remedy for Harris County might cause problems with other counties, if people could make similar claims about being disenfranchised.

– Given all that, the court said it had no choice but to reject the writ of mandamus and allow the 2022 election to go forward as planned. The court did not make any claims or judgments about the merits of the plaintiffs’ arguments, and said that if the matter comes back to them after going through the lower courts, they can evaluate them at that time.

So there you have it. There is still the Radack lawsuit out there, but as the story notes it seems extremely unlikely that will succeed at affecting this election based on this ruling. The Cagle/Ramsey lawsuit was dismissed in Harris County district court, so I presume the next step would be for the dismissal, which was made on the grounds that the plaintiffs lacked jurisdiction (this is what the story said, perhaps this should be standing), to be appealed. Success for the plaintiffs would mean sending the case back to a district court, hopefully (for them) to get a hearing and ruling on the merits, which would naturally be appealed by whoever lost. My guess is that this whole process would take a few years if everything proceeds at its normal pace. While the Supreme Court allowed for the possibility of an all-precinct election (under another new map) in 2024, or even a special election presumably before then, I wouldn’t hold my breath on it. Same thing for the Radack lawsuit, which as far as I know has not had an initial hearing yet.

Finally, while this story does not mention it, I wonder if this may also signal the death knell for the two state court redistricting challenges, on the same grounds of not having enough time to do something before people begin voting. That last update suggested the possibility of a trial this week, but I am not aware of any news to that effect. The cases are in Travis County district court, if anyone wants to try to figure that out.

What does “race blind” redistricting even mean?

Good question.

In states like Texas and North Carolina, Republican lawmakers in charge of redrawing the political maps for the next decade say that the new plans are “race blind.” Their opponents in court say that the claim is implausible and one that, in some situations, is at odds with the Voting Rights Act.

Several lawsuits, including from the Justice Department, allege that the maps drawn after the 2020 census discriminate against voters of color.

Between a 2013 Supreme Court decision that scaled back the federal government’s role in monitoring redistricting and a 2019 ruling that said partisan gerrymanders could not be challenged in federal court, voting rights advocates have been left with fewer tools to address what they say are unfair and illegal redistricting plans.

Meanwhile, lawmakers in the states where the redistricting legal fights have been most pitched have adopted an approach that claims that racial data played no role as they drew the maps for the next 10 years. Legislators say they’re avoiding the use of race data after decades of litigation where they’ve been accused of unconstitutionally relying on race to gerrymander.

“I don’t view this as a serious legal defense, but more of a PR defense,” said Thomas Saenz, the president and general counsel of Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which is suing Texas lawmakers over their new maps.

Challengers to the maps say that such an assertion of “race blind” maps is dubious as well as a betrayal of states’ obligations under the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits racial discrimination in redistricting. The law requires that in some circumstances, map-makers must draw plans in a way that creates minority-majority districts where voters can elect the candidates of their choice. In lawsuits alleging a failure to comply with the law, states like Texas have been accused of drawing maps that instead dilute the votes of communities of color.

Legislators may be trying to “immunize” themselves from most of the claims that are used in court to strike down redistricting maps, according to Nate Persily, a Stanford Law School professor and redistricting expert.

“By saying race was not in the minds of the people who drew the lines, you potentially get out of those constitutional causes action that you are intentionally diluting the vote of racial minorities or that race was the predominant factor in the construction of a district,” Persily told CNN, adding that such an approach doesn’t shield map-drawers from cases alleging Voting Rights Act violations.

Lawmakers’ description of maps as “race blind” is both “political rhetoric” and “test case rhetoric,” said Ben Ginsberg, a former Republican redistricting lawyer who is not involved in the current lawsuits. “But still, the standard is you can’t dilute minority voting power and minority opportunity to vote for their candidates of choice. And by not using race data they run the risk of being found to have diluted minority voting strength from what’s in the current map.”

[…]

In tension with legislators’ obligations under the Voting Rights Act are the limits the Constitution — under Supreme Court precedent — put on the use of race in redistricting.

The Supreme Court has said, via the 1993 decision in Shaw v. Reno, that use of race as a sole factor in drawing districts unconstitutional in most circumstances. However, the Voting Rights Act presents the sort of compelling government interest that allows for race to be considered.

Jason Torchinsky — a Republican election lawyer who has defended North Carolina legislators in redistricting cases in the past, but is not involved in the current cases in North Carolina or Texas– told CNN that map-drawers have to walk the line between their VRA obligations and not running afoul of the Constitution.

“Legislatures have to use very localized data to determine if they are required to draw [Voting Rights Act] Section 2 districts,” Torchinsky said. “If they are, then they have to consider race in those parts of the states because they’re required to under the Voting Rights Act.” But when states aren’t required to draw VRA districts, Torchinsky said, the use of race could pose a potential Constitutional problem.

I mean, if SCOTUS hadn’t killed preclearance back in 2013, we wouldn’t be having most of this debate right now, because none of these extreme maps would have seen the light of day. The claim at the time that we didn’t need preclearance any more because racial discrimination was a thing of the past was ludicrous then and is beyond obscene now. The 2019 ruling that said SCOTUS was unable to deal with partisan gerrymandering claims, even as the lower courts had no trouble adjudicating them, was cowardly and shameful. Of course, we do have what could be a pretty good answer to all that sitting on the Senate agenda, if we can somehow manage to convince two loathsome Senators that American democracy is a bigger concern than arcane and anti-democratic Senate rules. Until then, the only thing you can count on is that something is legal if SCOTUS says it is, no more and no less. And down the rabbit hole we go.

Law firm representing Spring Branch ISD withdraws from redistricting lawsuit

Interesting.

The law firm Thompson & Horton LLP has represented Spring Branch ISD in multiple legal matters since 2005.

While Thompson & Horton were originally representing SBISD in the Voting Rights Act lawsuit that Virginia Elizondo filed against the district and its trustees, the firm announced earlier this month that it would be withdrawing as counsel on the case.

“All I can really say is that Thompson & Horton requested to withdraw because we believe it to be in the best interest of the school district,” said lead attorney Chris Gilbert. “And that we believe the issues in the lawsuit are too important for the focus to be on who is legal counsel as opposed to the lawsuit itself.”

Gilbert would not give more details, citing attorney-client privilege.

The only statement from the district expressed similar ideas, saying, “On December 3, 2021, Thompson & Horton informed the Spring Branch ISD Board of Trustees of their desire to withdraw as counsel in Elizondo v. SBISD. Thompson & Horton believes this request is in the district’s best interests. The firm also believes the issues surrounding this lawsuit are very important and should be the focus of the community rather than who is legal counsel. SBISD is grateful to Thompson & Horton for their legal representation and their integrity in ensuring SBISD’s interests are best represented.”

As of Dec. 22, the district had not announced new counsel.

See here and here for some background. As the story notes, attorney Gilbert filed a response to the lawsuit on August 20, so whatever has come up to cause this change likely happened after that. I don’t want to speculate because I have no basis for it, but this feels a little weird to me. Maybe it’s nothing, maybe it has no practical effect even if it’s not nothing. Maybe we’ll find out more at a later date. For now, noting it for the record.

Lawsuit over Harris County Commissioners Court redistricting tossed

Missed this over the holidays.

A Harris County Judge on Wednesday tossed a lawsuit from Republican commissioners and voters over new county maps that favor Democrats.

Judge Dedra Davis ruled in favor of Harris County, finding that Republican commissioners Jack Cagle and Tom Ramsey and three voters did not have jurisdiction to sue.

The Republicans’ attorney, Andy Taylor, indicated that he planned to appeal the ruling.

Cagle, Ramsey and the three voters filed the lawsuit against Democratic County Judge Lina Hidalgo and against Harris County last month. The suit alleged that the redistricting map proposed by Democratic Commissioner Rodney Ellis, known as the Ellis 3 plan, amounts to an unconstitutional gerrymander that would deprive more than 1.1 million voters of their right to vote.

Texas election law staggers county precinct elections every two years. All county commissioners serve four-year terms, but commissioners in even-numbered precincts and those in odd-numbered precincts take place at two-year intervals.

The next election for even-numbered precincts is in 2022. The lawsuit alleges that the Ellis 3 plan shifts more than 1.1 million voters from even-numbered precincts to odd-numbered precincts, depriving them of their right to vote until 2024.

“Plaintiffs submit that there is a very simple explanation for why this occurred,” the lawsuit reads. “Commissioner Ellis wanted to do whatever it would take to draw a new map that would create three…Democratic seats. Thus, the Ellis 3 Plan does just that.”

See here for the background. The lawsuit seemed pretty flimsy on its face, and it was dismissed without comment by District Court Judge Dedra Davis. The plaintiffs, which include Commissioners Cagle and Ramsey, and fan favorite attorney Andy Taylor, have filed a writ of mandamus with the Supreme Court in a last ditch effort to stop the new map from taking effect. The mandamus, which you can see here, makes the following claims:

  • The 2020 census revealed population changes among districts that required redistricting.
  • It was possible to comply with the “one man, one vote” rule by transferring 4% of the county’s population.
  • But Hidalgo, Ellis and Garcia chose a plan that moved 48% and overstepped their authority.
  • That plan will deprive 1.1 million people of their right to vote for commissioner in the next election and likely tip the result from Republican to Democrat in one precinct, creating a 4-1 supermajority for Democrats.

As soon as I saw that “moved 48%” of voters claim, I said to myself, where have I seen a statistic like that before? Right here:

The initial Republican proposal for redrawing Texas congressional maps calls for Harris County to once again be split into nine districts, but with major alterations to protect the region’s endangered GOP incumbents.

The shifts mean more than a million voters who live west of downtown Houston would have a different member of Congress representing them.

Ultimately, Democratic-held districts now represented by U.S. Reps. Sylvia Garcia, Sheila Jackson Lee, Al Green and Lizzie Fletcher would all become more heavily blue under the proposed map released Monday by the Texas Senate. Under the proposal, Republican U.S. Reps. Dan Crenshaw and Troy Nehls would get more like-minded voters in their districts, too.

The proposal adds a completely new congressional district in west Harris County — District 38 — designed to favor a Republican, stitched together by cutting into four existing districts.

A little back of the envelope math here, we have “more than” a million voters, in a county with just under 2.5 million registered voters, that’s over 40% of voters being put into new districts, for the express purpose of creating a new Republican district in the county and bolstering the Republican caucus in Washington. So, yeah. Cry me a river, fellas.

Rep. Martinez-Fischer sues over CD35

One more federal redistricting lawsuit to add to the pile.

Texas State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer filed a lawsuit today challenging boundaries of the recently redrawn U.S. House District 35.

In the lawsuit, Fischer claims that the redrawn map violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and that is discriminates against Latino voters.

“Redistricting is a political process, but it impacts the people who live in our community personally. Our representation in Congress determines not only the resources we receive, but also how quickly our needs are addressed and how they are prioritized,” Fischer said. “By denying Latinos in CD-35 the opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice, Texas has shortchanged our community of the representation it deserves and has willfully committed a Section 2 violation.

Congressional District 35 spans the I-35 corridor from Austin to San Antonio. The redrawn maps were approved by Governor Greg Abbott on October 25.

“The nature of redistricting is creating winners and losers. District lines change, incumbents gain new constituents, and communities are divided. This is inevitable. What should not be inevitable is the intentional discrimination against Latino, Black, and AAPI voters that we have come to expect from Texas Republicans in redistricting. That is why I am challenging the state of Texas over the loss of a Latino opportunity district in Texas Congressional District 35, in direct violation of Section 2 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

A copy of the lawsuit is here. It is focused entirely on CD35, with the main thrust being that this district went from one that was majority Latino and had more population in Bexar County to one that is not majority Latino and has more population in Travis County. The complaint is fairly straightforward and not too long, so go read it.

As noted by Democracy Docket, this lawsuit has been combined with the others, including the Justice Department lawsuit filed earlier this month. While TMF originally asked for there to be “a permanent injunction prohibiting Defendants implementing any future elections held pursuant to SB 6”, the combined plaintiffs have since agreed (with one exception) to not ask for preliminary injunctions that would prevent the 2022 primaries for taking place, per the Brennan Center. Per Michael Li, the plaintiffs are asking for an October 2022 trial date, with the state of Texas asking for November. The exception are the plaintiffs in the Sen. Powell lawsuit over SD10 (known as the “Brooks plaintiffs”, as the first person listed is Roy Charles Brooks), who are asking for a preliminary injunction that would at least delay the 2022 primaries, since Sen. Powell will almost certainly be voted out next year under the current lines. I think that covers everything for now. Texas Public Radio has more.

Justice Department sues Texas over redistricting maps

Add it to the queue.

The Department of Justice is suing Texas over its new redistricting maps, alleging that lawmakers intentionally discriminated against Latino and Black voters while redrawing the state’s political districts this year.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in El Paso, takes aim at Texas’ new maps for Congress and the state House of Representatives. The Biden administration alleges that several of the districts were drawn “with discriminatory intent” to increase the electoral power of the state’s white voters despite massive population growth among racial minorities.

“Our complaint today alleges that the redistricting plans approved by the Texas State Legislature and signed into law by the governor will deny Black and Latino voters an equal opportunity to participate in the voting process and to elect representatives of their choice, in violation of the Voting Rights Act,” Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta said in a news conference.

Texas’ new maps, redrawn this year to reflect the state’s population increases since 2010, are already facing seven legal challenges in state courts. Critics have assailed them as attacks on Texas’ minority voters, noting that the state’s GOP-led Legislature declined to add any new majority-minority districts even as people of color drove 95 percent of the state’s 4 million-person population growth. Hispanic Texans comprised roughly half of that total.

“Our investigation determined that Texas’ redistricting plans will dilute the increased minority voting strength that should have developed from these significant demographic shifts,” Gupta said.

She added that the new maps were adopted through a “rushed process” that allowed for “minimum” public participation. The department is asking the court to prevent any elections from taking place using the new maps; the state’s primaries are scheduled for March 1.

Politico adds some details.

The suit notes that Texas’ past redistricting maps have repeatedly been smacked down by courts over the last several decades. But [Attorney General Merrick] Garland acknowledged during the press conference that this case presents more challenges than past decades because the so-called preclearance requirement, which mandated that jurisdictions with a history of discriminatory election laws get changes approved by either the Department of Justice or a D.C.-based federal court, was gutted by a mid-2010s Supreme Court decision.

“There are two problems: One, it means that we don’t get a chance to look at these things before they go into effect, which is a very significant aspect of our tools, and instead requires that we challenge every case individually,” Garland said. “And second, it flips the burden of proof.”

[…]

The suit takes particular issue with the 23rd Congressional District — a sprawling West Texas seat now held by GOP Rep. Tony Gonzales — accusing Texas Republicans of intentionally eliminating its status as a district where Latinos could elect their candidate of choice.

More than 50 percent of the voting age population in the new 23rd District is Latino, but the Department of Justice claims — as it has in previous litigation against other iterations of this seat — that GOP mapmakers swapped out Latinos who vote regularly with low-propensity Latino voters.

The end result, the suit says, is “an effort to strengthen the voting power of Anglo citizens while preserving the superficial appearance of Latino control.”

The suit also noted the lack of a new Latino opportunity seat in Houston’s Harris County and accused the legislature of having “surgically excised minority communities from the core of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex (DFW) by attaching them to heavily Anglo rural counties, some more than a hundred miles away.”

The suit also singles out the new 24th Congressional District, held by freshman GOP Rep. Beth Van Duyne. By reducing the district’s swath of northwest Dallas County, the mapmakers dropped the Latino citizen voting age population from 40 percent to 23 percent. The suit says the map again strengthens the Anglo voting bloc.

GOP mapmakers created three new deep blue seats — in Austin, Houston and Dallas — to accommodate a growing number of left-leaning voters and keep them from overwhelming the red-leaning districts surrounding them. None of those seats have a Latino-majority. Republicans will likely control at least two dozen of the state’s 38 seats under this new map.

In the Houston area, the suit notes that the new 38th Congressional District was drawn “to give Harris County’s shrinking Anglo population control of yet another Congressional seat” even though “most of that population growth occurred within the Latino community.” That seat leans heavily Republican, and the current frontrunner in the GOP primary, Wesley Hunt, is Black.

Garland also urged Congress to restore those preclearance requirements that were effectively stripped out of the Voting Rights Act by the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder, which was decided in 2013.

As noted before, there are multiple lawsuits that have already been filed, and with the exception of the Gutierrez/Eckhardt suit, which raises different questions, have been combined into one action. Michael Li expects this lawsuit to be assigned to the same three-judge panel as the others as well. He also says this:

Not really much else to say here – if the Senate can ever get around to passing one of the voting rights bills that the House has sent them, it could make the plaintiffs’ case even stronger, but unless that happens it’s hard for me to have a lot of optimism, despite the glimmer that Michael provides. It’s barely possible that the panel could put the March primary on hold, but to say the least I don’t expect that. A copy of the lawsuit is here, and the Trib and the Texas Signal have more.

Cracking Asian-American communities

The Trib explores what the new Congressional maps did to Asian-American communities, mostly but not exclusively in the Houston area.

When Texas lawmakers redrew congressional maps following the 2020 census, they split up Asian American populations in both Harris and Fort Bend counties.

One district line, winding between a local car wash and bar, severs most of the Korean neighborhoods, grocery stores, restaurants and a senior center from the community center itself, which now hangs on the edge of one congressional district while most of its members reside in the next district over.

“It’s like (lawmakers) don’t even know we are here,” said Hyunja Norman, president of the Korean American Voters League, who works out of the center. “If they were thoughtful, they could’ve included the Korean Community Center in (our district). But it’s like they are ignorant of us, or they just don’t care.”

As the Asian American and Pacific Islander population has grown and continued to mobilize politically, especially in the midst of rising hostility and targeted attacks, the community’s desire for representation in Texas and U.S. politics has become stronger. But many now feel their political aspirations became collateral damage in Republican efforts to draw political districts designed to preserve partisan power.

Although they make up only about 5% of Texas’ total population, Asian Texans accounted for a sizable portion of the state’s tremendous growth over the past decade. Nearly one in five new Texans since 2010 are Asian American, according to the census. They were the fastest-growing racial or ethnic voting group in the state, increasing from a population of about 950,000 in 2010 to nearly 1.6 million in 2020.

[…]

In Fort Bend County — which has ranked as the most diverse county in the country multiple times — Lily Trieu’s parents grew scared of even routine errands like grocery shopping or filling their gas tanks. They were afraid to wear masks in public.

And when Asian Americans in the U.S. House of Representatives introduced a resolution condemning the Atlanta shootings, almost every Texas Republican voted against it, including Fort Bend County’s U.S. Rep. Troy Nehls.

“This is why representation matters,” Trieu told Texas lawmakers when she testified at redistricting hearings. “This is why splitting our community to dilute our votes is directly denying our opportunity to receive that representation.”

[…]

Previously, more than 9% and 11% of the eligible voter populations in CD-7 and CD-9, respectively, were Asian American. But under the approved plans, CD-7 would increase to 17% Asian American population, covering Houston suburbs, while CD-9 would decrease to 9% Asian population — shifting the majority into one district and lessening its power in another.

A majority of the Asian American population in the suburbs also got redrawn into CD-22, a mostly rural district, decreasing its percentage of the Asian population from more than 15% to 10%.

CD-22 also now includes all of Sugar Land, which is the most Asian town in Texas.

Similar manipulations took place around Dallas. In Collin County, lawmakers approved a map for CD-4 that takes most of the Asian community across Frisco and Plano and attaches it to a district stretching north to the Oklahoma border.

Asian American voters, who would have made up 10.8% of the vote in their old district, comprise just 5.6% of their new one.

Chanda Parbhoo, president of South Asian American Voter Empowerment of Texas, said she had organizations members — mostly from Collin County — submit almost 50 written testimonies against the proposed maps during redistricting hearings.

It still didn’t feel like it was enough, Parbhoo said.

“It makes it really difficult for the (South Asian) community, an emerging political entity, that we haven’t had years of experience (with redistricting),” Parbhoo said. “As soon as a map comes out, then I’ll have to try to explain it to my community, like, ‘This is what’s not fair. These are the numbers.’ Everything moves so fast that the process doesn’t really allow for people to absorb it and to be able to ask questions.”

Ashley Cheng, lead organizer of the Texas AAPI Redistricting Coalition, also testified multiple times as lawmakers redrew voting districts and said the community has various issues at stake that a continued loss of representation will exacerbate.

Cheng said translating documents for Asian American voters is vital for the community to participate in voting. She said during the winter storm, many emergency alerts were only in English and Cheng’s mother, who does not fluently speak English, was left without information at her house.

“We are in a time of history where we’re really rising up as a community and making sure that our political voices are heard,” Cheng said. “Part of that is because our lives are being threatened. There’s been a heightened sense of Islamophobia in the last few years, heightened anti-Asian hate because of all of the political rhetoric around COVID. We have so much in common in a need for representation.”

Those Asian-American communities that are now stuck in CD04 had previously been in CD03, which even after redistricting is becoming more Democratic but which has been moved backwards in the process. The most recent lawsuit filed against the redistricting plans, which has now been combined with most of the other lawsuits, had a focus on Asian-American communities and concerns, though as this story notes the courts have not previously recognized Asian-Americans as a minority population in need of protection at the voting booth. I doubt that will change now, but all you can do is try.

Redistricting litigation update

Reform Austin shows that the state’s legal defense strategy against the various redistricting lawsuits is “You can’t sue us!”

Because of the clear racial gerrymandering, multiple groups are launching legal challenges under the Voting Rights Act. The state has now responded to the one being brought by the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), Mi Familia Vota, the Mexican American Bar Association, and others, asking for a dismissal. Among many other claims, the state alleges that private citizens do not have standing to sue under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

“The Supreme Court has never decided whether Section 2 contains an implied private cause of action,” reads the filing.

Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act makes it illegal to gerrymander a district for the purpose of suppressing voting power based on race. Strictly political gerrymandering was deemed acceptable in a 2019 Supreme Court case, but the two intentions are often intermingled. The majority of minorities tend to vote Democrat, making any political gerrymandering also racial almost by definition.

The filing by the state does admit that some legal opinions have implied that Section 2 does give private citizens standing to sue but says that these implications are inconsistent with other Supreme Court decisions. The case specifically cited is Alexander vs. Sandoval, which found that regulations enacted under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 did not confer the right to legal action in a case of non-intentional discrimination. The filing also claims that the Voting Rights Act did not actually create a right to vote in spite of the discrimination, and therefor there is no right to be contested under its statute.

Not a whole lot to say here, as Texas has employed a variation on that strategy in a whole host of lawsuit defenses lately. I don’t know what the district and appeals courts will make of that, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see it get a warm welcome at SCOTUS. Hey, have I mentioned lately that a new and updated federal voting rights law would be a good idea? Just checking.

Reading that article made me go Google news hunting for anything else I could find on redistricting litigation, since not all developments make their way into the sources I read regularly. In doing so I found that all but one of the existing federal cases against the redistricting maps have been consolidated into one, the LULAC v Texas case, as it was the first one filed. You can see all of the filings related to this omnibus case here. When I read the order combining the cases, the motion for which had been partially opposed, I learned that there were two other lawsuits that I had missed the first time around. Let me sum up here. The cases that I knew about that are now under this banner: The LULAC/MALDEF suit, the Voto Latino suit, the federal MALC suit, the Senator Powell lawsuit over SD10, and the Fair Maps Texas Action Committee lawsuit.

The cases that I missed the first time around: The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, representing the Texas State Conference of the NAACP, and Damon James Wilson, formerly an inmate in Dallas County, representing himself as he was counted in one Congressional district while incarcerated but intends to return to his actual domicile in another CD when released, and says he should have been counted in that district.

The one federal case that remains separate from the others is the Gutierrez/Eckhardt suit, which the court rejected for consolidation on the grounds that about whether the Lege was allowed to draw maps at all, and not about the composition of the new maps.

So, for those of you keeping score at home, we now have two federal lawsuits challenging different aspects of Texas redistricting, and one state lawsuit that focuses on the county line rule and how it was allegedly violated in Cameron County in the drawing on HDs 35 and 37. You’ll be quizzed on this at a later date, so please make sure you take good notes.

Galveston adopts all-white Commissioners Court map

In case you missed it.

Commissioner Stephen Holmes

Dozens of residents crowded into a small county annex building Friday afternoon to urge, beg, lecture and warn commissioners against approving new precinct maps that dissenters called unfair, undemocratic and potentially illegal.

The protest, mostly by county Democrats and Black residents, culminated with a speech by Commissioner Stephen Holmes, the only Democrat and only minority member of the court, who said the maps would put people of his precinct at an electoral disadvantage.

“It’s about the people of Precinct 3 being able to pick the candidate of their choice,” Holmes said. “It’s not just an election, this is their life. They fought this for years.”

Holmes told the court the maps were drawn with a “discriminatory purpose” and presented his own versions of new precincts that would maintain the status quo in the county.

“We are not going to go quietly into the night,” Holmes said. “We are going to rage, rage, rage until justice is done.”

A majority of the court wasn’t moved by the outpouring of opposition, however.

Commissioners voted 3-1 to approve a precinct map that changes the balance of political power in the county. The map redraws political lines to give Republican voters a majority in each of four precincts.

Holmes’ Precinct 3 now contains a majority of Democratic voters based on results of recent partisan elections. The other three precincts already contained mostly Republican voters.

County Judge Mark Henry and commissioners Darrell Apffel and Joe Giusti voted in favor of the map. Holmes voted against it. Commissioner Ken Clark was absent. In a text, Clark said he was out of town because of a pre-planned family trip.

The county was compelled to draw new precinct lines to make population adjustments based on the 2020 census. Commissioners are required by law to have roughly equal-sized precincts by population.

Commissioners gave themselves an option to vote on two maps designed by a Republican Party strategist hired earlier this year. One map made minimal changes to precinct lines that mostly maintained the status quo. The second, the one approved Friday, makes extensive change.

The approved map doesn’t just change the party makeup of the county’s precincts. It also changes their racial makeup.

By the county’s own analysis, the new map would divide minority populations so that every precinct is mostly made up of white voters.

Holmes is Black, and his precinct is the only one where a majority of voters are Black or Hispanic.

You can see the proposed maps here, with Map 2 being what was adopted and Map 1 being close to what currently exists. Ari Berman, who notes a lot of similar activity by Republicans going on around the country, brings more details.

For more than two decades Holmes has represented a district running through the center of Galveston County where Blacks and Hispanics comprise a majority of eligible voters. But under the new maps approved by three white, male GOP county commissioners, voters of color would make up just 26 percent of eligible voters in Holmes’ new district, reducing the minority vote by a staggering 28 points and likely dooming his re-election chances in 2024.

Such a move would have been unthinkable and illegal before the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013, ruling that states like Texas and jurisdictions like Galveston County with a long history of discrimination no longer needed to approve voting changes and electoral boundaries with the federal government. As a result of that decision—and the failure by Democrats to overcome four GOP filibusters in order to pass federal legislation protecting voting rights and outlawing extreme gerrymandering, such as the Freedom to Vote Act and John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act—Republicans are erasing decades of long-fought gains for voters of color, returning parts of the South to a pre-1965 status quo where conservative whites have effectively denied political representation to previously disenfranchised communities of color and are preventing major demographic changes from leading to shifts in political power.

[…]

Some of the GOP’s top mapmakers are behind the strategy to eliminate representation for communities of color. In 2011, Galveston County hired the firm run by GOP gerrymandering guru Thomas Hofeller to redraw districts for the county commission, justices of the peace, and constable offices. Hofeller practically invented modern gerrymandering and was well-known for drawing maps that aggressively helped Republicans.

Along with his partner Dale Oldham, Hofeller drew congressional districts in North Carolina that were struck down by the courts for racial and partisan gerrymandering. He also urged the Trump administration to add a question about US citizenship to the 2020 census so that the GOP could draw legislative districts that “would clearly be a disadvantage to the Democrats” and “advantageous to Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites,” he wrote.

The districts Hofeller drew in Galveston were blocked in 2012 by the Justice Department under the Voting Rights Act for reducing representation for communities of color. But two months after the Supreme Court’s decision gutting the VRA in June 2013, Galveston enacted the justice of the peace and constable districts that were previously deemed discriminatory, becoming one of the first jurisdictions in the country to target communities of color following the Court’s decision.

Hofeller passed away in 2018, but Galveston County hired Oldham to draw its commissioner districts in 2021. Holmes said he had “minimal interaction” with Oldham, but when they first spoke Oldham asked Holmes to draw the map he wanted for his district, which Holmes thought was odd because Oldham, not Holmes, was the mapmaker. Holmes sent Oldham a rough map of the district he wanted, but when Oldham traveled to Galveston to meet with the commissioners the maps he showed Holmes looked nothing like the one he suggested. “You didn’t draw the map I asked you to draw,” Holmes said he told Oldham. One map diluted the minority vote in Holmes’ district by adding a predominantly white area along the Gulf Coast, while another completely dismantled his district by taking away Galveston and other diverse, Democratic-leaning areas and concentrating his precinct in the heavily Republican and overwhelmingly white northern parts of the county.

Holmes objected to both maps, but when he talked to Oldham next over Zoom, “he showed me the same damn maps again,” Holmes said.

Commissioner Holmes has urged his constituents to contact the Justice Department and ask them to intervene. He has talked about filing a lawsuit, and even though I don’t have much faith in that vehicle these days, I hope he does. I don’t know what else there is to do. I’m sure all of the Harris County Republicans who have complained about the “radical changes” made to our map will be quick to condemn this one as well. Houston Public Media has more.

ACLU and others sue over new redistricting maps

The count is now seven.

Civil rights groups filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday challenging new Texas state legislative and congressional district plans as unconstitutional racial gerrymanders violating both the Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution. The suit details an inadequate redistricting process that lacked transparency and led to discriminatory voting maps that dilute the political power of communities of color, particularly Black, Latino, and Asian American & Pacific Islander (AAPI) voters.

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Texas, and the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), brought the case on behalf of the Fair Maps Texas Action Committee, OCA-Greater Houston, the North Texas Chapter of the Asian Pacific Islander Americans Public Affairs Association, Emgage and 13 individual plaintiffs in the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas, Austin Division.

“Texas’ latest gerrymanders seek to blunt the rightful political power of fast-growing populations of Latino, Black and Asian American and Pacific Islanders voters by carving up the chance to elect their preferred candidates to the United States Congress, the Texas House of Representatives, and the Texas Senate,” Allison Riggs, Co-Executive Director and Chief Counsel for Voting Rights with SCSJ. “This intentional discrimination of voters of color in clear violation of the VRA and U.S. Constitution cannot stand.”

The Fair Maps Texas Action Committee includes the ACLU of Texas, Clean Elections Texas, League of Women Voters of Texas, Our Vote Texas, National Council of Jewish Women-Greater Dallas Section, Texans Against Gerrymandering, and Common Cause Texas.

“Today, the Fair Maps Texas Action Committee is honored to join our partners from across the state to challenge the unconstitutional district maps recently passed by the State of Texas. Lawmakers have willfully ignored the rich diversity of our growing state and have instead chosen to draw maps that discriminate against voters of color,” said organizations from the Fair Maps Texas Action Committee in a joint statement today. “From the very start of this legislative process, we worked to bring diverse people together so that all marginalized communities receive fair representation. Despite our best efforts to advocate for a fair and open redistricting process, the politicians in charge chose to shut the public out in order to force through blatantly gerrymandered maps. Now, we will take action together to challenge these unlawful maps because our democracy is threatened.”

[…]

The complaint specifically seeks to remedy discriminatory districts in many of Texas’ fastest-growing cities and suburban areas, where the political power of communities of color is exploited to the benefit of more conservative white areas. For example, the lawsuit identifies how Texas’ state House maps unfairly crack AAPI voters in Fort Bend and Collin counties among multiple districts, while House Districts 54 and 55 in Bell County brazenly split the city of Killeen, where 40% of residents are Black. The complaint also focuses on state Senate and congressional maps where new districts in the Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston metros intentionally divide AAPI, Black, and Latino voters. The suit also points out that Texas’ congressional maps create two new majority-white districts in a state where 95% of population growth stems from communities of color.

That’s from the ACLU press release. I’d gotten an email with a notice of the video conference they had about this on Tuesday, but as of Wednesday the only news story I saw about this was this one in Newsweek. Sometimes these things take a couple of days for that. Anyway, you can see a copy of the complaint here. It is limited to Congress and the two legislative chambers, so no claims about the SBOE.

The other litigation so far includes the Gutierrez/Eckhardt suit, the LULAC/MALDEF suit, the Voto Latino suit, the two MALC suits, and most recently the Senator Powell lawsuit over SD10. All but one of the MALC lawsuits, which is specifically about State House districts in Cameron County and alleges a violation of the county rule, are in federal court. I believe this is the first one to include a focus on Asian-American voters, but I’d have to go back and take a closer look at the other complaints. Beyond that, I would be really excited to have an attorney who has some familiarity with the law in this area take a look at all these actions and tell me how they are different and whether any of it matters as far as the courts are concerned. Until then, this is what we know. Reform Austin, which also rounds up all the lawsuits, has more.

Republicans sue over new Commissioners Court map

Hilarious.

Republican Commissioners Jack Cagle and Tom Ramsey have filed a voting rights lawsuit in state court in hopes of halting a Harris County redistricting plan they claim strips more than 1.1 million people of their right to vote in 2022.

Cagle and Ramsey, who are in the political minority in county government, lost ground in the redistricting plan their three political opponents supported, as Cagle’s Precinct 4 was redrawn last month to become majority Democrat.

Cagle and Ramsey announced Tuesday they were suing Democratic County Judge Lina Hidalgo and the county itself, but indicated through their attorney they see Commissioners Rodney Ellis and Adrian Garcia as equally culpable of depriving voters’ rights. Three fellow plaintiffs who stood with the commissioners at a news conference were identified in court documents as registered voters and ethnic minorities.

One plantiff, Ranya Khanoyan, a senior in ROTC at Klein Cain High School, voted for the first time in November, but she would not be able to vote for Precinct 4 commissioner in the March primary or November election because the plan moves her to Precinct 3, which does not have an election until 2024.

“I’m not willing to look Ranya who just turned 18 in the face and say, ‘You know, sweetie, you’re going to have to wait til 2024 to vote,’” said the commissioners’ attorney, Andy Taylor. “The right to vote is sacred.”

See here for the background. Sure does suck to be on the other side, doesn’t it, fellas? And hey, welcome back to the spotlight, Andy Taylor. With Jared Woodfill filing all the crazy political lawsuits these days, I’d almost forgotten you existed.

My initial reaction, when I saw the early version of this story, was that this lawsuit was ridiculous on its face. If “I don’t get to vote for County Commissioner in the next election” is the standard, then it would be impossible to ever move a voter from, say, Precinct 1 to Precinct 4. I’d be willing to be that if we went back to past redistrictings, like the 2011 redistricting, we had some motion from an odd-numbered district to an even-numbered one, or vice versa. It would mean that the next time HISD has to redraw boundaries, it could only move voters between districts that are on the same four-year schedule. I have a hard time believing that’s a constitutional or statutory right that’s being violated here. At least one person agrees with me:

Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University, said the commissioners’ lawsuit takes a creative approach but added, “This isn’t going anywhere.”

“The premise of it is that somehow because of staggered terms for county commissioners a person’s constitutional rights are being violated because they’ll have to wait two years to vote,” Jones said.

Those who might have to wait this time around because of the new map would vote in 2024 and 2028, he said. They wouldn’t lose their right to vote in Jones’ view. Like other southern politicians following the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby v. Holder, which cut out key provisions of the Voting Rights Act, the members of commissioners court had much more flexibility in reshaping districts in 2021 than in 2011, 2001 or 1991. The did not need preclearance to make the changes.

Jones likened the Republicans’ announcement this week to the Democratic redistricting lawsuits against the Texas House and Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives.

“This is much more political posturing rather than legal strategy,” he said. “This is more a negative reaction to the extreme partisan gerrymandering by Rodney Ellis, Lina Hidalgo and Adrian Garcia.”

Jones’ colleague at Rice, Robert Stein, agreed that the county’s new district boundaries undoubtedly disadvantage both Republican commissioners and many of their supporters.

“There is great irony in the fact the two white Republican males are suing the County Judge over the county commissioners redistricting plan,” Stein said. “For the last 100 years Blacks and Hispanics have argued, sometimes successfully, sometimes unsuccessfully, that the partisan drawing of legislative districts prevented them from voting for the candidates of their choice.”

This was filed in state court, so some Harris County judge will get to deal with it. There’s no federal standard for partisan gerrymandering, because the concept was too hard for John Roberts to deal with, but state courts could find that such a thing had happened. I don’t know that the Republicans in Austin will be all that thrilled in that event. I will of course keep an eye on this.

Justice Department sues Texas over the voter suppression law

Specifically, they are challenging a couple of specific provisions of the law.

The U.S. Justice Department on Thursday sued Texas over its new voting law, expanding its effort to challenge Republican-backed measures passed in state legislatures.

The lawsuit, brought by the DOJ’s civil rights division in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, challenges provisions in the Texas law, known as SB 1, that place new procedural requirements on voting by mail and restrict the assistance voters with disabilities or those who struggle to read and write are able to receive in filling out a ballot.

Those provisions “deny eligible voters meaningful assistance in the voting booth and require rejection of mail ballot materials for immaterial errors or omissions,” the department’s complaint alleges.

The lawsuit is the second one the DOJ’s civil rights division has brought this year challenging a state law placing new restrictions on voting. The department sued Georgia in June over a law the federal government alleged disproportionately harmed voters of color.

[…]

Unlike the case against Georgia, the DOJ’s suit against Texas was not brought under the section of the Voting Rights Act that focuses on voter discrimination based on race.

Rather, the complaint filed Thursday focuses on a section of the law requiring voter assistance for those who need it based on “blindness, disability or inability to read or write.” The suit was also filed under a provision of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 banning people from being denied the right to vote based on clerical errors or omissions that are “not material” in determining if someone is qualified to vote.

The complaint does mention the history of voting discrimination in Texas and the growth of minority populations in the state in recent years, but the claims based on race or ethnicity all have to do with the restrictions the law places on help made available to voters who speak languages other than English.

The Texas law confines the role of voting “assistors” to reading the ballot or helping to mark the ballot, barring individuals who provide help from “answering a voter’s questions, explaining the voting process, paraphrasing complex language, and providing other forms of voting assistance that some qualified voters require to cast an informed and effective vote,” according to the complaint.

The lawsuit also takes aim at measures that require voters to provide an identification number, such as a driver’s license or election identification certificate, in requesting a mail-in ballot.

“Conditioning the right to cast a mail ballot on a voter’s ability to recall and recite the identification number provided on an application for voter registration months or years before will curtail fundamental voting rights without advancing any legitimate state interest,” the lawsuit alleges.

It’s been a little while since the initial flurry of lawsuits against SB1, long enough that I had forgotten that there were already six lawsuits over this thing: Two lawsuits filed before the bill was signed, by Harris County and a coalition of voters, one filed in Austin and one in San Antonio; a trio of lawsuits filed right after it was signed, one each in federal court by Democracy Docket and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and one in state court by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law; and one a month later, which is to now say a month ago, by Mi Familia Vota. As I said at the time, it was not clear to me why the Lawyers’ Committee one was filed in state court. Those lawsuits were all presented as being broader claims about racial discrimination, much like that DOJ lawsuit against Georgia, while this one is more focused on a couple of specific items in the law. I don’t know if that was a strategic choice or just a recognition that the broader issues were already being addressed.

The Trib adds a few more details.

The state has long allowed voters who need assistance casting ballots to have someone help them, as long as those assisting don’t try to influence the actual votes. SB 1 places new constraints on what those assistants may do. They cannot answer questions, clarify translations, explain the voting process or paraphrase complex language, the federal lawsuit says.

The law also creates potential criminal penalties for people who assist voters. A person assisting a voter is required to fill out paperwork disclosing their relationship to that voter. They must also recite an expanded oath — now under the penalty of perjury — that states they did not “pressure or coerce” the voter into picking them for assistance.

The oath no longer allows explicitly answering the voter’s questions. Instead, an assistant must pledge to limit their assistance to “reading the ballot to the voter, directing the voter to read the ballot, marking the voter’s ballot, or directing the voter to mark the ballot.”

The limits on assistance will hit particularly hard voters with limited English proficiency and those with disabilities, the lawsuit contends.

“There is a history of discrimination against voters with disabilities in Texas,” the lawsuit claims, noting estimates that 28% of Texans have conditions impairing their mobility, cognition or vision.

The suit also takes aim at SB 1’s new rules for mail-in voting. Texas traditionally has placed more limits on mail-in voting than other states. The legitimacy of mail-in ballots was largely determined by comparing signatures on applications and ballots.

SB 1 created new ID requirements. Voters who want to be mailed a ballot must provide their driver’s license number or, if they don’t have one, the last four digits of their Social Security number when they send in an application for one.

They then must provide the same numbers on the envelope used to return their completed ballot. Critics point out that many voters — particularly elderly applicants — may have their votes thrown out simply because they didn’t remember which ID number they used the first time, or have lost their ID card.

The law, set to take effect in time for the 2022 primary elections, already faced legal challenges generally argue it will disproportionately impact voters of colors and voters with disabilities. Those challenges, along with Thursday’s lawsuit, could delay its implementation.

Here’s where I shrug and say that I have no idea what the courts will make of this. I will also remind everyone that the Texas voter ID law specifically excluded mail voters from needing to provide ID because at the time more Republicans voted by mail, and they had no interest in inconveniencing their own voters. Now that Democrats also use mail ballots, that consideration no longer applies. The Chron, Reform Austin, and Daily Kos have more.

Sen. Powell sues over SD10

Number six and counting.

Sen. Beverly Powell

Tarrant County state Sen. Beverly Powell filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday against the state Senate redistricting plan, marking the latest court challenge to Texas’ Republican-drawn political maps that secure the GOP’s grip on power for the next decade but blunt the voting strength of nonwhite voters who fueled the state’s population surge.

The legal team for Powell and six other Tarrant County citizens argued the Texas Senate redraw dilutes minority voting strength in the Democrat’s district, in violation of the federal Voting Rights Act and U.S. Constitution, according to the suit filed in federal court in Austin.

The Senate’s redistricting plan dramatically transforms Powell’s Senate District 10 into a district favorable for a Republican candidate by moving much of the nonwhite population into a large swath of rural areas, including Parker and Johnson counties. Others are packed into the nearby Senate District 23 represented by Dallas Democrat Royce West.

“The adopted Senate map is a brutal attack on Tarrant County voters,” Powell said in a news release. “The map cracks historic Tarrant County minority neighborhoods and submerges hundreds of thousands of Tarrant County voters into rural counties and suburban districts. It is an intentional racially discriminatory scheme to undermine and destroy the voting rights of those I am elected to serve.”

[…]

The previous iteration of Senate District 10 was drawn by courts after a judge found it in violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The GOP-led redistricting effort this year put in place a district that changed District 10 from a Fort Worth-centric district inside Tarrant County to a sprawling district that increased in geographic size by at least tenfold.

It previously favored President Joe Biden by eight points, according to election returns. But the redrawn district would have gone for Republican Donald Trump by 16 points, a 24-point swing that likely dooms Powell’s hopes for re-election.

The remap shrinks the share of Hispanic, Black and Asian eligible voters in District 10 while increasing the share of white eligible voters, from 54% to 62%.

The plaintiffs’ attorneys asked the federal court to block the map, with respect to Powell’s district, from being used in any elections and to set in motion a plan for new boundaries. The suit names Gov. Greg Abbott and newly appointed Texas Secretary of State John Scott as defendants.

You can see a copy of the lawsuit here. The other litigation so far includes the Gutierrez/Eckhardt suit, the LULAC/MALDEF suit, the Voto Latino suit, and the two MALC suits. As a reminder, the current map with SD10 entirely in Tarrant County can be seen here, and the new map with SD10 sprawling out into multiple rural counties can be seen here. The question for the short term is whether one or more of these plaintiffs can get a temporary restraining order against one or more maps, thus potentially delaying the primaries. I don’t think that is likely to happen – there may be a TRO, but I would expect it to be stayed by the appeals court – but we’ll see. A press release from the Lone Star Project is here, and the Star-Telegram has more.

A redistricting lawsuit twofer from MALC

One federal, one state.

The Mexican American Legislative Caucus in the Texas House has opened a second front in the legal war over the state’s new political maps.

The caucus on Wednesday turned to the state courts to challenge the constitutionality of the new state House map, arguing it violates state requirements for breaking county lines in drawing up the chamber’s 150 districts. The move comes on the heels of two lawsuits filed against the newly approved maps in federal court. The caucus on Wednesday simultaneously filed another federal lawsuit alleging the state’s new maps were drawn with discriminatory intent and violate the federal Voting Rights Act.

Texas redistricting fights have typically played out in federal courts, which decade after decade have found that lawmakers, often intentionally, flouted federal protections for voters of color in redistricting. Filed in Austin, MALC framed its federal lawsuit as an effort to “redress once again Texas’s sordid pattern of racial discrimination.”

However, the lawsuit filed in state district court in Travis County is tied to language in the state Constitution, which states that legislators drawing 150 districts for the Texas House are supposed to keep whole counties that have sufficient population to make up one House district.

MALC’s challenge centers on the reconfiguration of Cameron County in the Rio Grande Valley, which breaks the county line twice to create three different districts — only one of which is wholly contained within the county. The state’s “county line rule,” MALC argues, would require two districts to be drawn within Cameron with the remaining population connected to a single neighboring district, as was the case under the map the state used for the last decade.

The new lines in Cameron, drawn over the objections of lawmakers who represent the affected areas, would afford Republicans a newly competitive state House seat in an area currently dominated by Democrats. In its federal lawsuit, MALC alleges the lines would also “severely dilute” the ability of Latinos and the Spanish-speaking community in the area to elect their preferred candidates.

The swap and the objections to it are noted in this post. This is the first state court lawsuit against the redistricting effort, though the Gutierrez/Eckhardt suit will find its way there as well. The claim seems pretty straightforward. According to the population report for the State House map, HD37 has 164K voters in Cameron County and 20K in Willacy, while HD35 has 70K in Cameron and 123K in Hidalgo. All 186K voters in HD35 are in Cameron. The suit claims that according to the county rule in the state constitution, HD37 should be entirely within Cameron County, and those Willacy County voters would need to be swapped out, presumably to HD35 where about 20K of its voters would have to be in HD37. Here’s a quote from the lawsuit:

A key principle in both the plain language of the Texas Constitution itself and the Texas Supreme Court’s interpretation of the county line rule in light of Reynolds, is that for any county which has enough population for one or more representatives and also has a left-over surplus that cannot be wholly contained in the county, that surplus may only be joined in one single representative district with area from another contiguous county or counties.

Emphasis mine. I will note that HDs 35 (57-42 for Biden in 2020 and 38 (62-37 Biden) are reasonably Dem-friendly, while HD37 (51-48 Biden) is less so. Now, Willacy County was roughly 56-44 for Biden, so how Dem-friendly the HD35 portion of Cameron County is makes a difference here. I have to assume it’s better for Dems than the Willacy portion is, because otherwise the Republicans wouldn’t have bothered. Maybe they could still squeeze HD37 in a favorable way for themselves if it had to be entirely within Cameron, but in the end they didn’t. So this could be a difference maker, if the plaintiffs win.

On the federal side:

In its federal lawsuit, MALC challenges the new maps for Congress, the Texas House and the State Board of Education, saying they are intentionally discriminatory and mired in illegal racial gerrymanders. The caucus also raises specific claims on a litany of districts where they allege the Legislature packed and cracked communities of color to limit their electoral impact.

“The plans adopted by the State not only failed to increase Latino and minority opportunities for representation, they actually decreased them while increasing the number of districts in which Anglos form a majority of the eligible voter population,” the MALC complaint reads. “This turns the concept of representative democracy on its head.”

Echoing the two federal lawsuits already in the pipeline, MALC is also challenging the Legislature’s refusal to create additional districts in which Hispanic voters would control elections. Republicans, who had complete control over the redistricting process this year, declined to create those districts even as they reconfigured the congressional map to include the two additional U.S. House seats the state gained, the most of any state in this year’s reapportionment, because of its explosive growth.

See here and here for the other federal lawsuits. I don’t know what new MALC is bringing to the table, and as discussed I don’t have much faith in the federal courts on this matter, but I welcome all comers. The Statesman has more.

A brief update on the Gutierrez/Eckhardt redistricting lawsuit

First news we’ve had in awhile.

Plaintiff: Democratic state Sens. Roland Gutierrez and Sarah Eckhardt

What the lawsuit argues: Ahead of lawmakers’ third special session, two Democratic state senators sued to block the Legislature from redistricting in a special session this year. The senators argued the Texas Constitution requires that redistricting be done in a regular session that won’t happen until 2023.

If successful, the federal lawsuit by Sens. Eckhardt of Austin and Gutierrez of San Antonio, with political organization Tejano Democrats, would require judges to create interim redistricting plans for the Legislature to use in the 2022 election cycle.

What’s next: The case, filed Sept. 1 in federal court in Austin, has been assigned to a three-judge panel of Reagan appointee Jerry Smith, Obama appointee Robert Pitman and Trump appointee Jeffrey Brown.

State lawyers have asked the court to consolidate the LULAC case with the senators’ case, and asked the court to abstain from a state matter. The officials also argued the plaintiffs misinterpreted the state constitution and cannot challenge the old maps.

On Tuesday, both sides indicated that the plaintiffs intend to pursue similar claims in state court. The three-judge panel then ordered the parties to file a joint status report “when they have determined the impact of the litigation in state court on this case.”

See here for the background on this lawsuit. The LULAC case is the one filed in mid-October after the maps were passed but before they were signed into law, with LULAC and several other groups as plaintiffs, and with MALDEF doing the filing. That lawsuit challenged all of the maps, including the Congressional map – the Gutierrez/Eckhardt lawsuit only challenged the legislative maps, as they are the ones that are covered by the state constitution.

What this sounds like to me is that the two Senators will file a new lawsuit in a state court, and action on the federal side will be put on pause until there is some kind of ruling there, at which point the three-judge panel will consider what its next steps are. I’ll keep an eye out for any news about that filing.

On a side note, this story also had a brief update about the Voto Latino lawsuit. That one was also assigned to a three-judge panel, and it too had an Obama appointee, a Trump appointee…and Jerry Smith. Who was involved in (I believe) the consolidated redistricting cases from the last decade. Do they keep him on ice just for these situations, or is is the luck of the draw? I am mystified. Reform Austin has more.

Redistricting lawsuit #2 filed

This one focuses on just the Congressional map.

An organization affiliated with Eric Holder, who was attorney general in the Obama administration, has filed a federal lawsuit seeking to overturn the state’s GOP-drawn redistricting map for Congress on behalf of a Latino rights group and 13 Texas voters.

Filed Monday in an Austin federal court, the lawsuit claims mapmakers in the Texas Legislature improperly drew political districts in Senate Bill 6 that increased the power of white voters even though 95% of the state’s growth last decade was fueled by people of color.

That population growth made Texas the only state to gain two congressional seats after the 2020 census.

“Yet Senate Bill 6 appropriates those additional districts — and more — for white Texans,” the lawsuit argued. “Senate Bill 6 does so by packing and cracking communities of color along racial lines to ensure that those groups’ growing populations will not translate to increased political influence.”

Holder, chairman of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, said the congressional districts drawn by Republican lawmakers and signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott violate the Voting Rights Act.

[…]

The new lawsuit, filed Monday on behalf of Voto Latino and 13 voters, asks U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman to overturn the congressional districts and order a new map to be drawn that:

• Adds two majority Latino districts in South and West Texas, from the border region north to Bexar County and south to the Gulf of Mexico.

• Improves the voting strength of Latinos in Congressional District 23, which stretches along the border with Mexico from San Antonio to just east of El Paso.

• Adds a majority Latino or majority Black-Latino district in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

• Creates another majority Latino or majority Black-Latino district in the Houston area.

The lawsuit also complained that Congressional District 35, which stretches from Austin to San Antonio along a narrow strip of Interstate 35, improperly combines far-flung Latino communities into a district with a Latino voting-age population of just under 48%.

A statement from Voto Latino is here, and a copy of the lawsuit is here. The National Redistricting Action Fund, a non-profit affiliate of the NDRC, did the filing. As noted, there is a separate lawsuit filed by MALDEF that challenges the legislative and SBOE maps in addition to the Congressional map. I assume that the NRDC and NRAF focused on the Congressional map because the NDRC’s mission is more of a national one. You know the drill here – the plaintiffs will have tons of evidence on their side, but unless there’s a new federal law to address this, SCOTUS ain’t gonna care. There’s also a chance this could delay the 2022 primaries, though again I would not bet on it. We’ll see what happens. Spectrum News has more.

The new maps are now official

Expect further lawsuits to follow.

Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday approved Texas’ new political maps for the state’s congressional, legislative and State Board of Education districts, according to Texas Legislature Online.

The maps were drawn to keep Texas Republicans in power for the next decade. They simultaneously diminish the power of voters of color — despite new census numbers pointing to Texans of color as the main force behind the state’s population growth.

The new districts will be used for the first time in next year’s primary and general elections, barring any court interventions.

The redistricting process, which happens every 10 years after new census data is released, is complicated and contentious. Legal battles have already begun, with one early lawsuit raising various claims that the new districts unfairly and illegally discriminate against voters of color. More legal challenges are expected to pop up in the near future.

That’s the main story; what follows is a listing of the stories for each milestone in the process during the last special session. The main points to take away here are that we’re going to have a regular March primary because there’s no reason not to, and there’s still time for a federal voting rights law to be passed. It would likely not have any immediate action, unless a plaintiff in the current or a future lawsuit could get a restraining order based on it, but it would make it easier to eventually get a map or maps thrown out in court. Would have been better in every conceivable way to have had such legislation in place two months ago, but here we are. There will be more lawsuits regardless, and we’ll see where they go and how long they take to get there. Reform Austin has more.

Congressional map passes

And so the work is done. The lawyers are warming up their engines as we speak.

The Texas Legislature has signed off on new congressional districts that shore up the GOP’s dominance and yield little ground to the people of color who have driven the state’s growth.

Wrapping up their work to build a decade of population change into new political maps, the Senate and House on Monday each approved a negotiated, final version of the congressional map, which will go to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott for his signature. In complete control of the redistricting process, Republicans designed a map that will tighten their hold on diversifying parts of the state where the party’s grip on power was waning and lock in the GOP’s majority in the 38-seat delegation for the U.S. House.

The map also incorporates two additional House seats the state gained, the most of any state in this year’s reapportionment. Though Texas received those districts because of explosive population growth — 95% of it attributable to people of color — Republicans opted to give white voters effective control of both, which were drawn in the Houston and Austin areas.

The Senate approved the map on a 18-13 vote. The House followed with an 84-59 vote.

Previewing the legal battles that will follow, Democrats decried the lack of adequate representation for voters of color, shunning a map that diminishes their voices instead of reflecting the state’s changing racial and demographic makeup. Half of the 4 million residents the state gained in the past 10 years were Hispanic.

“What we’re doing in passing this congressional map is a disservice to the people of Texas. What we’re doing is hurtful to millions of Texans — it’s shameful,” state Rep. Rafael Anchía, the Dallas Democrat who chairs the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, told his colleagues before the vote. “I’d love to be able to say it is a stain on the legacy of voting rights, but that seems to be the playbook decade after decade after decade in this state.”

The Republicans who led the redistricting process offered little defense of the maps from the Senate and House floors before the final votes. They have previously said the congressional map was drafted based on a series of “priorities,” including partisanship and keeping communities of interest together. They’ve also argued the map complies with federal laws protecting voters of color from discrimination, though they have declined to offer specifics about their legal analysis.

[…]

Republicans placed a new district, the 37th Congressional District, in the Austin area to capture Democratic-leaning voters that were endangering the prospects of Republican incumbents in nearby districts. They also drew in a new district, the 38th Congressional District, that would offer Republicans safe territory in the Houston area. In both districts, white residents would make up more than 60% of eligible voters.

During the Senate’s first debate over the map earlier this month, state Sen. Joan Huffman, the Houston Republican who led the Senate’s redistricting process, told her colleagues her team had seen “no strong basis in evidence” to create a new opportunity district for voters of color.

Like I said, the lawyers are ready. You can see the map here. As the story notes, one significant change was to undo the scrambling of CDs 09, 18, and 29 that left Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee and Al Green living in different districts. They got what they asked for, and in the process they put most of my neighborhood, including myself, back into CD18. You should check and see where you wound up.

I don’t have much more to say about the maps at this time. I’ll keep a lookout for electoral data when it becomes readily available, and of course I’ll keep an eye on the inevitable litigation. In the meantime, the big question is are we finally done with all this crap?

Early Tuesday morning, both the House and Senate adjourned the third special session of the year, capping a grueling stretch that featured a weekslong Democratic walkout over the GOP’s priority elections bill and a series of proposals to build on what was already a triumphant regular session for conservatives.

But the latest special session ended without lawmakers passing two of Abbott’s priorities — legislation to increase an illegal voting penalty and to ban vaccine mandates by any entity in Texas.

In each of the previous three legislative sessions this year, Abbott was firm that he would keep calling lawmakers back to Austin until they addressed the legislation he required of them — most notably the GOP elections bill and changes to the bail system targeting violent offenders. He placed a bill targeting transgender student athletes on each of the three special session agendas, until it was finally passed in the most recent session.

On Monday night, as the chambers were nearing sine die, Abbott declined to say whether a fourth special session would be necessary. He also did not say anything Tuesday about the possibility, but he did issue a statement applauding lawmakers for their work in the third special session that suggested he was satisfied with what they had gotten done.

“These dynamic achievements would not have been possible without the men and women of the Texas House and Senate who worked tirelessly through the third Special Session to ensure these priorities made it across the finish line,” he said. “Because of their efforts, the future of Texas is stronger, safer, and freer.”

But the unfinished bills are fraught with intraparty politics, and could expose Abbott to attacks from his right, which he has been increasingly attuned to as he prepares for his 2022 reelection campaign.

Some lawmakers expect there to be a fourth special session, but not in the short term — and maybe closer to primary season.

May the Lord have mercy on us all. At least we know that the remaining items Abbott might want are more contentious among Republicans, and that may act as a brake on them. But man, do I never want to have to depend on Republicans doing the thing that I want them to do, because that trick never works. The Chron has more.

More on the Spring Branch ISD single member district lawsuit

Good story from KTRK.

The unofficial dividing line for the two sides: I-10 running through the district.

With two boys in the district, Carla Cooper-Molano has seen the battle scars, and she wants someone on the school board who represents her family living north of I-10.

“If I communicate to the board, these are my needs, this is what I need, this is what my community at school needs, they are drowned by a much larger vested interest from the south,” said Cooper-Molano.

Cooper-Molano said the majority of SBISD students come from lower-income, working-class families, whose struggles range from paying rent to buying school supplies, to putting food on the table every night.

The disconnect comes when you look at the makeup of the current SBISD school board. According to a recently filed federal civil rights lawsuit, the majority of SBISD’s board members live south of I-10, in more affluent and less diverse neighborhoods. In fact, a person of color has never won a seat on the school board. According to the district’s own data, SBISD’s student body is 59% Hispanic, and 27% white.

The lawsuit alleges that having every school board member elected “at-large,” meaning they represent the entire district instead of neighborhoods, violates the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 because it dilutes the voting power of minorities. The plaintiff who filed the suit is Virginia Elizondo, a former teacher at SBISD with a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership. Elizondo ran twice for the school board, most recently in 2021. This time, she came up short against Chris Earnest, a Memorial area consultant.

Elizondo and supporters of the lawsuit are asking for single-member districts to be drawn. Under this scenario, board members will be elected to represent specific areas of the district, not the entire district. It’s similar to how the House of Representatives elects its members, and how Houston ISD elects its school board members. Houston City Council, for example, has a hybrid model. There are five at-large seats in addition to the district seats.

Nina Perales, the vice president of the Latino legal rights organization Legal Services for MALDEF, has fought similar battles in other cities across Texas. She explains that the plaintiff will need to show the courts there is no opportunity for minorities to elect a candidate of their choice.

“If the majority of voters consistently prefer one candidate, and minority voters consistently prefer another candidate, it’s simple math. The majority is always going to outvote the minority in every single seat,” said Perales.

See here for some background, and here for some demographic data about SBISD. The fight is contentious in part because a loud contingent of SBISD parents from the wealthy part of the district don’t think that the SBISD board is opposing it strongly enough, and they want to have one of them added as a defendant in the lawsuit. If the plaintiffs win, past history suggests they will be able to elect someone to the Board; a recent example cited in the story is Richardson ISD, in the Dallas area. I don’t know what the litigation schedule is – these things can take years to resolve – but I’ll keep an eye on it.

Down to the wire for Congressional redistricting

Time is running out in this session. Of course, there’s always the next session shudder.

A redraw of the state’s congressional map to include a decade of population growth could be headed to last-minute backdoor negotiations after the Texas House made a series of changes to the Senate’s proposed boundaries.

The House approved the congressional map on a 79-56 vote early Sunday, leaving in place district configurations that largely protect incumbents while denying Hispanics control of either of the two additional seats the state earned based on the 4 million new residents it gained, according to 2020 census results. Half of the new residents were Hispanic.

But the House late Saturday tweaked the Senate-approved map so that two Black Democratic members of Congress in the Houston area would not be pitted against each other. The chamber also amended the map to just barely restore the Hispanic-majority electorate of a Central Texas district stretching from Austin to San Antonio that the Senate plan had shrunk.

Early Sunday morning, the Senate rejected those changes and requested what’s known as a conference committee, made up of members of both chambers, to hash out the differences. That deal would require an additional vote by each chamber before this third special session ends Tuesday.

[…]

Throughout the evening, Democrats warned of “blatant legal defects” that undermine the electoral strength of voters of color in choosing their representatives in Washington, D.C. At times offering vague reasoning for their opposition, the House’s Republican majority repeatedly rejected their bids to rework the map and create additional districts in which voters of color could control elections.

A failed proposal to create such a district for Hispanics in western Dallas County grew particularly contentious as state Rep. Jacey Jetton, R-Richmond, spoke against the proposal, noting it would reduce the Hispanic population in a neighboring Democratic district.

In response, state Rep. Rafael Anchía, the Dallas Democrat who had offered the proposal, questioned why Republicans would object to the new district while signing off on a configuration that instead draws some of those Hispanics into a massive rural district with almost surgical precision.

Under the plan Republicans approved, the 6th Congressional District — which stretches across seven mostly white rural counties to the south of Dallas — extends a finger northward into Dallas County to capture Hispanic neighborhoods. That engineering simultaneously boosts white voters’ control of the district while stranding Hispanic voters who in the past were concentrated enough to influence election outcomes.

“You really have to try hard to deny Latinos in North Texas the ability to select that candidate of their choice, but that’s what’s baked in this plan,” Anchía said.

[…]

In reconfiguring the Austin-area districts, the Senate had brought the share of Hispanic eligible voters in the 35th Congressional District down from 52.6% to 48%. House Republicans voted to give Hispanic voters a marginal majority by bringing them up to 50.5% of eligible voters in the district, which is currently represented by longtime Democratic U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett.

In that same amendment, Republicans also upped the percentage of Hispanic eligible voters to exactly 50% in CD-27, a district that runs from the Gulf Coast up to Central Texas. But the seat would likely remain under Republican control, giving Donald Trump a hypothetical 20.5-percentage-point margin of victory at 2020 levels of support. The district is currently represented by Republican Michael Cloud of Victoria.

Democrats voted against those changes because they also served to further boost Republican performance in neighboring CD-15, which is anchored in Hidalgo County. The Senate reconfigured that district to flip it from one that Joe Biden narrowly carried to one that Trump would’ve won by 2.6 percentage points. Under the House’s changes, Trump’s margin of victory increases to 4.6 percentage points.

The CD-15 incumbent, U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, has said he would move to run for reelection in the reconfigured CD-34, which was unexpectedly close in 2020 but was shored up as a safe Democratic seat. But it appears he will be able to stay put, thanks to a Democratic amendment passed Saturday that would draw his residence into CD-34.

Save for exceptions like CD-15, the GOP appeared to prioritize incumbent protection over aggressively running up the party’s numbers in the congressional delegation. But the map does in fact give Republicans a bigger edge, increasing from 22 to 25 the number of districts that would have voted for Donald Trump in 2020. The state’s current delegation consists of 23 Republicans and 13 Democrats.

See here and here for the background. I expect that the conference committee will produce a final map that will get approved in time, which would at least have the benefit of lessening the need for yet another special session. That’s all up to Greg Abbott of course, and if there’s some other dumbass wingnut thing he wants to do to fake looking tough for Republican primary voters, he can do it. Having Congressional maps in place would mean he doesn’t have to, for whatever that’s worth. This map is trash, but we know the courts will rubber stamp it, so the Republicans have no need to care. Pass it and get out of town, it’s the best we can hope for.

The Lege is now 3/4 done with redistricting

All but the Congressional maps are done. They’re just plowing through it.

The Texas Legislature is nearing the end of its work to incorporate a decade’s worth of population growth into new political maps — pressing forward with efforts to cement GOP dominance of the statehouse and deny voters of color a greater say in who gets elected.

In the final stretch of a 30-day special legislative session, the Republican majorities in the House and Senate on Friday almost simultaneously signed off on new political maps for the opposite chamber, sending them to Gov. Greg Abbott, also a Republican, for his signature. The votes were largely procedural as neither chamber made any changes. It’s customary for each chamber to defer to the other in drawing up maps for its own members, but both must give them a vote.

By a vote of 81-60, the House granted approval to a Senate map that would draw safe seats for Republican incumbents who were facing competitive races as their districts diversified over the last 10 years.

The Senate gave an 18-13 vote to a House map that would fortify the Republican majority of the 150 districts, bolstering those that had grown competitive over the last decade and devising new battleground districts.

The House also signed off on a new map for the Republican-controlled State Board of Education, which sets standards for Texas public schools. Still left on the docket is a House vote on a redraw of the state’s congressional map that would largely protect incumbents in Congress while reducing the number of districts in which Black and Hispanic residents make up the majority of eligible voters. That vote is expected Saturday.

If adopted, the maps could remain in place for the next 10 years, though it’s all but certain that they will face legal challenges that could result in changes.

[…]

Sixteen Republican incumbents will be drawn into safe districts for reelection, while two Senate seats being vacated by Republicans would almost certainly go to new GOP candidates over Democrats next year based on the percentage of voters in the district who voted for Donald Trump over Joe Biden in last year’s presidential race.

Democrats would also likely lose Senate District 10 in North Texas, represented by Sen. Beverly Powell of Fort Worth. That would shift the Senate’s partisan makeup from the current 18 Republicans and 13 Democrats to 19 Republicans and 12 Democrats under the proposed map.

Voters of color in the district, which sits entirely in Tarrant County, have banded together with white voters over the last decade to elect their candidates of choice. Its eligible voters are 21% Black, 20% Hispanic and 54% white.

But under the proposed map, SD 10’s Black and Hispanic populations are split into two other districts with majority-white electorates.

The voters who remain in the newly drawn District 10 would also see major changes. Black and Hispanic voters in urban areas of south Fort Worth would be lumped in with seven rural counties to the south and west that would drive up the district’s population of white eligible voters to 62% while diminishing its population of voters of color.

Tarrant County House Democrats warned that federal courts had ruled that a similar attempt to redraw the district last decade was discriminatory. They offered multiple amendments to keep District 10 entirely in the county.

[…]

The House’s new map also pulls back on Hispanic and Black voters’ potential influence in electing their representatives.

The map brings the number of districts in which Hispanics make up the majority of eligible voters down from 33 to 30. The number of districts with Black residents as the majority of eligible voters would go from seven to six. Meanwhile, the number of districts with a white majority among eligible voters would increase from 83 to 89.

The map moved through the Senate chamber without any discussion, save for an earlier objection from state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., a Democrat from the Rio Grande Valley, during a Senate Redistricting Committee meeting Friday morning.

Lucio denounced a revision to the map that would carve up predominantly Hispanic communities in the Rio Grande Valley in service of creating a new competitive House district in the typically blue region. The change, forced by a member who does not represent the affected districts, blindsided the House members from the area.

“Members, this is my fourth redistricting session,” Lucio told other members of the committee. “In my time in the Legislature, I have never seen such blatant disregard for the process.”

Meanwhile, Republicans shot down Democratic proposals to create new opportunities for Hispanic or Black Texans to control elections.

State Rep. Todd Hunter, the Corpus Christi Republican serving as the House’s chief map-drawer, has previously argued the map “achieves fair representation for the citizens of Texas” while complying with federal law.

The redraw will ultimately aid Republicans’ ability to control the chamber for years to come.

The House map creates 85 districts that would have favored Trump at 2020 levels of support and 65 that would have voted for Biden. The current partisan breakdown of the House is 83 Republicans and 67 Democrats, though Trump only won 76 of the current districts in 2020.

See here and here for some background. The speed with which these maps have been approved is I believe one part there being basically no changes proposed in the other chamber, and one part a sense of urgency on the legislators’ part to get the hell out of town already. I can hardly blame them for that, but in the end it’s up to Greg Abbott.

On the subject of litigation over these maps, on claims of racial discrimination and voting rights violations, I remain pessimistic about the likelihood of any redress from the courts. Not because I think the maps are fair and accurately reflect the population, but because I have no expectation that this Supreme Court will countenance any voting rights claims. We could still do something about that at a federal level, but until Senators Manchin and Sinema let go of their bizarre obsession with the filibuster as it is currently defined, that ain’t going anywhere.

That said, I am reasonably optimistic about the potential for gains in the State House, if not in 2022 then in the coming years. The Chron story on the passage of these maps is a reminder of why.

The new Texas House map will protect Republican control by shedding Democratic-leaning areas where the party has lost support and moving those to blue districts while shoring up red ones.

That give-and-take is evident in west Harris County where two red districts, represented by Republican state Reps. Mike Schofield of Katy and Lacey Hull of Houston, are redrawn to include red-leaning precincts from Democratic state Rep. Jon Rosenthal’s nearby district; Rosenthal’s district will get blue-leaning areas now represented by the two Republicans.

As the state’s demographics change, however, there are only so many reliably red areas from which to pull. That meant for some districts, the best Republicans could do was make changes to benefit incumbents.

For example, the Energy Corridor district represented by state Rep. Jim Murphy, a Republican who is not seeking re-election, would give up some GOP precincts to Hull. Former President Donald Trump won Murphy’s district by 4 percentage points in 2020, but under the new map, that margin would drop to 2 points.

You’ve seen me make a version of this argument in previous posts. In the House, unlike the other maps, the Republicans were constrained by the county rule, which did not allow them to extend mostly rural districts into urban and suburban counties to dilute their Democratic communities. That forced them to draw a large number of districts with a relatively modest margin for Donald Trump, and the large majority of them are in counties where the trends have been moving strongly in a Democratic direction. Things can certainly change, and any given election can favor one party or the other, but overall that seems like a highly unstable equilibrium for the GOP.

The fourth map is of course the Congressional map. The Senate approved a map a few days ago, and the House committee approved it with no changes, as House Redistricting Chair Todd Hunter insisted that any amendments be made on the House floor. That puts them in position to be done with the entire business by the time the session ends, though I expect there to be a big fight when this map comes up for debate. The proposed map does some truly outlandish things to break up urban counties and communities of color, which I’m sure will draw a ton of heat and more threats of litigation from Dems. I expect them to get the job done, though if there are changes it will have to go back to the Senate for final approval. If it needs to go to a conference committee, that will almost surely require a fourth special session to finish it off. God help us all. Daily Kos has more.

Senate passes Congressional map

Start the litigation countdown. Yes, I know, this still has to pass the House, but still.

The Texas Senate approved a map Friday that would largely protect incumbents in Congress while reducing the number of districts in which Black and Hispanic residents make up the majority of eligible voters — stymieing the growth of the state’s Democratic Party representation in Washington, D.C.

The congressional map is focused more on protecting incumbents than on growing the power of the dominant Republican Party in the state by flipping districts from blue to red. But the map, proposed by GOP state Sen. Joan Huffman of Houston, helps Republicans by increasing the number of districts that would have voted for Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election and decreasing those that would have gone for Joe Biden.

In anticipation of federal challenges to the map, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a Republican who presides over the Senate, said in a statement Friday that the proposal approved by the chamber was “legal and fair” and represented a “commitment to making sure every Texan’s voice is heard in Washington, D.C.”

[…]

State Sen. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio, proposed a map that would create three additional districts where Hispanics made up the majority, bringing the number of those districts to 10.

But Republicans rejected the proposal, with Huffman saying the amendment had been drafted less than 24 hours before the Senate’s vote on the maps and would result in a “detailed and painstaking racial gerrymander” in North Texas to draw a new Hispanic-majority district in the same area as the current Congressional District 33, represented by U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth.

Gutierrez accused Republicans of racially discriminating against voters of color.

“How else do we describe a situation where Texas gains new political power because of the physical presence of millions of Black, Brown, and Asian bodies, and yet the political establishment does not give those very Texans the ability to elect more candidates to represent them?” he said in a statement. “It is an insult to the foundations of our democracy.”

Under the proposed maps, voters of color may end up with less representation in the congressional delegation. The new map drops the number of districts in which Hispanics make up a majority of eligible voters from eight to seven, and the districts in which Black Texans make up a majority of eligible voters from one to zero.

The number of districts where whites make up a majority of eligible voters goes up to 23 although the state’s white population — which increased by just 187,252 — was swamped by the growth of people of color.

See here for more on the initial map, which looks to be largely the same as the final map. Which we know is totally fair and representative because Dan Patrick says it is. The House will likely make some changes, but it seems unlikely to be substantively different. I’ll say this much, they’ve given Harris County Democrats a new district to target, and I feel confident that any Republican who wins the new CD38 is never going to get a free pass. I’ll be interested to see who files for this on the Democratic side.

As for the coming litigation, the arguments are clear, it’s just a matter of what SCOTUS will allow in the post-Voting Rights Act world that it wants. I will say again, it’s not too late for a new Voting Rights Act to be passed. We’re going to need an upgrade in the US Senate to make that happen, I fear.

Speaking of litigation, I would love to know what the status of the Gutierrez/Eckhardt lawsuit is. That had to do with the legislative maps, not the Congressional map, but given the speed with which those maps are moving along, we will be reaching a point of no return soon. Let’s at least have a hearing on this one before events make it moot, OK?

UPDATE: I should have spent more time looking at the District Viewer, because I have just now realized that this map moves me out of CD18, where I’ve been for 30 years, and into CD29. I feel a little weird about that.

One more lawsuit against Texas’ voter suppression law

From Mi Familia Vota:

Non-profit civic engagement organization Mi Familia Vota, along with individual voters, filed suit today in the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas in San Antonio seeking to block a new voter suppression law enacted by the Texas Legislature.

The lawsuit challenges Texas Senate Bill No. 1 (SB 1), a law designed to suppress votes from Texans of color and other marginalized communities through measures that include prohibiting drive-through voting, limiting voting hours, making it unlawful for counties to automatically mail eligible voters mail-in ballot applications; implementing stricter rules for voting by mail; allowing election officials to reject allegedly defective ballots without notice to the voter prior to the election; implementing monthly purges of voter rolls; limiting physical and language assistance at the polls; and enabling partisan poll watchers, which creates increased risk of voter intimidation.

The law was passed on the heels of the 2020 election, which saw enormous gains in the number of Black and Latino voters in Texas, in part driven by counties like Harris County, which took actions to make voting safe and accessible, including by offering drive-through and 24-hour voting options. “Texas’s new voter suppression law, 2021 Texas Senate Bill No. 1, 87th Legislature (“SB 1”), is a calculated effort to disenfranchise voters,” the complaint reads. “If allowed to stand, the bill will unconstitutionally burden qualified voters and inevitably prevent many voters from lawfully casting their ballots in future elections.”

The plaintiffs argue that these changes to voting law in Texas create an undue burden on voters, especially those who are Black or Latino, in violation of the First, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. They cite a pattern of voter suppression legislation in Texas throughout the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries, and they demonstrate as false Texas officials’ claim that the law is targeting “voter fraud.”

“Latinos and other voters of color came out to vote in big numbers in 2020,” said Angelica Razo, Texas State Director for Mi Familia Vota. “We saw places like Harris County come up with ways of making voting widely available and safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our state should empower voters to find safe and accessible voting options. Instead, our legislators chose to suppress voters, make it harder for us to vote, and subject us to voter intimidation. Voting is a constitutional, protected right, and we are proud to continue to advocate for the voting rights of our community, so that all eligible voters are able to exercise their right to vote.”

[…]

The defendants in this case are Texas Governor Greg Abbott, Texas Deputy Secretary of State Jose Esparza, and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

The plaintiffs are represented by Free Speech For People, a nonpartisan legal advocacy nonprofit dedicated to defending our democracy; the law firm of Stoel Rives; and the law firm of Lyons & Lyons. Free Speech For People filed a federal lawsuit last month in Phoenix, on behalf of Mi Familia Vota, Arizona Coalition for Change, Living United for Change in Arizona, and Chispa Arizona, to block two new Arizona laws restricting voting rights.

”SB 1 creates unconstitutional burdens on the right of Texans to vote, in an effort to block voters–and specifically voters of color–from voting and having their votes counted,” said Courtney Hostetler, Senior Counsel for Free Speech For People. “It shuts down reasonable practices that counties have implemented to increase voters’ access to the polls. It makes voters and election officials vulnerable to intimidation. And it will force certain voters to jump through costly and time-consuming hoops to remain on the voter rolls. The law violates the First, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the US Constitution and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.”

A copy of the lawsuit is here. It’s lawsuit number 6 by my count – there were two federal lawsuits filed before SB1 was signed, then two more federal lawsuits plus a state lawsuit filed right after it was signed. I still haven’t really read any of them, but these are all people who have been down this road many times before. Their arguments may not work in the courts that we have now, but they will have merit regardless. I expect the federal suits to get combined, maybe not all of them into one but some of them. And it will surely take months before we get our first hearings and maybe rulings. Stay tuned, and do keep reminding our Democrats in Washington that it’s still not too late to pass a federal voting rights bill.

More redistricting stuff

Just a roundup of some redistricting stories. We’ll start with the DMN.

The new map, part of a process of redrawing legislative boundaries every 10 years, makes significant changes in North Texas, where Democrats likely will gain a seat held by Republican Jeff Cason. The district would move to an area made up of mostly minority voters.

But the Republican proposal also adjusts the southern Denton County district represented by Democrat Michelle Beckley to make it more favorable for a GOP candidate. Beckley has opted to run for Congress in 2022 against Republican incumbent Beth Van Duyne in Congressional District 24.

Meanwhile, the North Dallas district represented by John Turner would move west and become a majority Hispanic district in Oak Cliff and Grand Prairie. Turner is retiring after his term ends, and had he stayed, he would have been paired with a Republican Morgan Meyer.

In North Texas, Republicans had the goal of protecting their incumbents who could be in trouble during the next decade. They made alterations that now have the Dallas County seats held by Republicans Angie Chen Button of Garland and Meyer, who lives in University Park. The new maps place them in areas won in 2020 by Donald Trump, but only at a 50% to 49% margin. Those districts will remain battlegrounds as Democrats try to make Dallas County a blue oasis.

Republicans bolstered their Tarrant County seats, except for the one held by Cason, which will become more Democratic. Cason also was one of only two Republicans who voted against House Speaker Dade Phelan in January. And they made the Collin County districts represented by GOP Reps. Matt Shaheen and Jeff Leach stronger for a Republican, but as with the case in Dallas County, the Collin County seats will remain targets for Democrats.

“Republicans did their best to cement their majority and, from a partisan gerrymandering standpoint, they played this very smart,” said David de la Fuente, a senior policy analysts for the center-left group called Third Way. “They didn’t go overly aggressive for new pickup opportunities for themselves because they know that a lot of this growth that’s happening in Texas is growth that could benefit the Democratic Party, so they tried to stop losses more than anything else.”

[…]

Rep. Jasmine Crockett, a Dallas Democrats who represents District 100, which includes parts of southern and eastern Dallas County, as well as West Dallas, is upset that her district is slated to incur a radical drop in its Black population. Under the new maps, the number of voting age Black residents District 100 will drop from 34.6% to 27%. The white voting age population would increase from 22% to nearly 37%. Crockett’s voting age Hispanic population drops from 41% to 29%.

“They have taken the voice away from African Americans in my district and that’s a clear violation of the Voting Rights Act,” Crockett said. “They are spitting on the legacy of HD 100. They went too far.”

Most of the Black population lost by Crockett will be moved to the nearby District 104 that is represented by Dallas Democrat Jessica González. Her new constituents would include residents from the historic Joppa neighborhood, a community built by freed slaves. District 104 has largely changed, González said. The district now extends to Mesquite and Garland.

While she would pick up Black population from districts represented by Crockett and Rose, González said the number of eligible voters with Hispanic surnames would drop from over 50% to about 48%. That could be a Voting Rights Act violation, analysts say.

Crockett and González were vocal participants of the quorum break by House Democrats to stall a controversial elections bill.

“I’m not too shocked that it ended up being me they targeted,” Crockett said. “I kind of wear it as a badge of honor…It is still a safe Democratic seat, but partisan gerrymandering is legal and when you slice and dice communities of interests, you end up with a problem.”

State Rep. Toni Rose, D-Dallas, would also have the Black population in her district sharply reduced, and she would lose Paul Quinn College. Rose’s district would see a drop in Black voting age population–from 34% to 26%. The Hispanic voting age population in the district would rise from 58% to 63%.

Black residents represented 25% of the growth in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Well, that answers my question about what Rep. Cason did to offend the redistricting gods. Gotta say, I was under the impression that doing what was done here to Rep. Crockett’s district was called “retrogression” and it was a no-no under the Voting Rights Act. It’s not clear to me if that slicing and dicing was done for strategic reasons or just out of spite. Wait for the lawsuits, I guess.

Here’s the Chronicle:

“The map gives Republicans a slight advantage,” said Ross Sherman of the advocacy group RepresentUs, which works with the Princeton Gerrymandering Project to grade redistricting proposals. “This seems to be a trend this cycle: another map producing safe seats and insulating politicians from their constituents.”

The Gerrymandering Project gave the proposed House map a “C” in fairness for its GOP advantages. It’s the highest grade a Texas map has received so far, after proposals for congressional and state Senate maps earned “F” grades.

[…]

Speaking in general about the maps, GOP strategist Brendan Steinhauser said the Republicans tried to “lock in the gains” they earned during the 2020 election, rather than “be too aggressive” and shift blue seats their way.

The House seats currently are divided almost equally between districts that favored Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden in 2020. The current map includes 76 Trump-led districts and 74 Biden-led districts, but the new map shifts that support to 86 in favor of Trump and 64 in support of Biden.

Texas grew by roughly 4 million people over the past decade, a surge driven almost entirely by people of color, especially Latinos. Updating the political maps is required every 10 years, to account for such shifts.

Still, the proposed House map reduces the number of majority-minority districts by voting age population. Previously, 67 districts were majority-white; the new map proposes 72 districts that have mostly white voters.

Those numbers change dramatically when evaluating estimates for adult citizens. Using those figures, the House currently has 83 majority-white districts, compared with 89 under the new map. And while the current districts include 33 with Hispanic majorities and seven with Black majorities, those numbers would fall to 30 and four, respectively.

“These maps do nothing but preserve the status quo at the expense of Black and brown Texans,” said Anthony Gutierrez, the executive director of the good-government group Common Cause Texas.

Same observation about the reduction of majority-minority districts. I mean, I get that the Voting Rights Act may as well be written on toilet paper with this Supreme Court, but it’s still theoretically the law of the land. The Republicans may have had more challenges with the State House districts because of the law that requires districts to be entirely within counties where possible, which prevented them from putting pieces of urban counties in the same district with rural counties, which was not the case for the Congress or State Senate maps. Again, I figure the lawyers will have a lot to say about all this when the dust settles.

Speaking of Congress:

In a strongly-worded letter, U.S. Reps Sheila Jackson Lee and Al Green said they oppose the Republicans’ proposed redrawing of their districts and say they were not consulted before the map was released to the public.

The map “makes radical and unneeded changes to the two local congressional districts that include the majority of Black voters in Harris and Fort Bend counties,” the letter to the Texas Senate Redistricting committee states.

There are massive changes for Harris County in the congressional redistricting plan the Texas Senate released earlier this week. The county would still have nine members of Congress, but the district lines would be dramatically altered to improve the re-election chances of current Republicans and create a new congressional seat that appears to have been drafted to ensure another Republican would be elected to Congress.

The map would have a dramatic impact on the districts represented by Jackson Lee and Green, changing who represents 200,000 mostly Black residents.

Jackson Lee’s 18th Congressional District would not only lose the Third Ward, but also downtown Houston, the University of Houston and Texas Southern University — most of those areas would instead be shifted to the 29th Congressional District, represented by Democratic U.S. Rep. Sylvia Garcia.

And the Republican map would put Jackson Lee’s home in Riverside Terrace into Green’s 9th Congressional District, meaning she would not even be able to vote for herself unless she moved. It would also put Jackson Lee’s main district office for the 18th in Green’s district, forcing her to move it.

“No other member of the large Texas delegation is so severely impacted by the proposed map,” the letter notes, pointing out at Jackson Lee’s 18th Congressional District has roots that tie back to Barbara Jordan, who in 1972 became the first Black woman to represent Texas in Congress.

I said before that Reps. Green and Jackson Lee would easily win the new districts as drawn, but what was done to them is clearly an insult. For Sen. Huffman to claim that no one got in touch with her about the maps she was drawing is disingenuous, especially when she knows what effect those maps are going to have. You have the power, you have the responsibility. Spare me the whining.

More from the Statesman:

Nonwhite residents accounted for about 95% of the population growth that gave Texas two additional seats in the U.S. House.

Despite that, the number of predominantly Hispanic congressional districts in Texas would fall from eight to seven, while majority Anglo districts would rise from 22 to 23, in the Republican-drawn map unveiled this week, said Gloria Leal with the League of United Latin American Citizens.

[…]

“Toss-up seats, which presented an opportunity for Hispanics to elect candidates of choice, were cut from 12 to one,” Leal said. “This blatant attempt to increase partisanship in districts not only results in the suppression of minority votes, but it eliminates the opportunity for Hispanics to elect a candidate of their choice in violation of the Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution.”

State Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston and chairwoman of the committee, said the map was drawn in a “color-blind way,” without taking into account the race of residents.

“We did not consider race in drawing the maps at all,” Huffman said. “Once we drew the maps, we provided them to our legal counsel … and we are advised that they were legally compliant” with the Voting Rights Act.

Michael Li, with the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, testified that creating the map without regard to race is not enough to insulate it from legal challenges, particularly if lawmakers know about its adverse impact on nonwhite Texans.

Li said the proposed map raised several “red flags,” particularly in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, where Black and Hispanic populations increased sharply in the past decade, yet no new districts were created to give nonwhite voters an opportunity to elect preferred candidates. At the same time, SB 6 would move a significant Latino population from a district held by U.S. Rep. Mark Veasy, D-Fort Worth, and into an Anglo majority district that includes seven rural counties, he said.

Li also questioned changes made to District 22 — centered on Fort Bend County, one of the most diverse suburban counties in America — where the voting age population would rise to 55% Anglo, up from the current 46%. Dismantling a district where rising numbers of Hispanic, Black and Asian voters were able to create voting coalitions “raises many red flags,” he said.

Have I mentioned that the lawyers are going to be busy? I don’t have much faith in the courts, but I believe in the lawyers.

Decision Desk:

Texas gained two Congressional districts through 2020 reapportionment. One district went into Austin, which the GOP previously divided between five Republican districts in 2010. All five ended up as marginal races by 2020. This new Democratic district releases pressure on the five seats allowing them to absorb Democratic voters from other parts of the state. The second new Congressional seat is roughly the successor to the old Seventh district in west Houston, with the new TX-07 traveling between Houston and her suburbs as a new, safe Democratic seat.

TX-03, TX-06, TX-07, TX-10, TX-21, TX-22, TX-23, TX-24, TX-25, TX31, and TX-32 were all potential competitive seats in 2020. TX-15, TX-28, and TX-34 became competitive because of newfound Republican strength among South Texas Hispanics. All but one of the districts are now uncompetitive. Republican Districts gain more Republican voters, and the few Democratic held seats become more Democratic. All of the former Republican suburban seats reach deep into the rural and exurban areas and drop Democratic suburbs. Former rural and exurban seats – TX-04, TX-05, TX-08, TX-13, and TX-36 – reach deeper into the suburbs to carve up Democratic areas. The result is  districts with obtuse borders where the Democrats gained the most voters, such as the north Dallas suburbs with the new TX-04.

In South Texas, past voting rights litigation prevents Republican map-makers from exploiting recent party gains. The resulting districts resemble the present lines and stretch northwards, but the most GOP-favoring Hispanic areas are now congregated in TX-15 which makes it a potential swing district. O’Rourke did win this seat by over 10%, so the district will not be competitive if the 2020 results end up as a one-off occurrence.

Texas mappers still found ways to cater to their protected incumbents. In TX-10, Senior Republican Michael McCaul gets a district that squiggles narrowly around Austin from his neighborhood west of the city to rural Texas. New TX-06 Republican Jake Ellzey’s district takes in more rural areas where he is better known and loses Arlington Republican voters who backed Susan Wright during the 2021 Special Election. TX-25 previously did not include Republican Roger Williams’ base in Weatherford, west of Fort Worth. Now it does.

Republicans also released their proposed Legislative and Board of Education district maps, which can be viewed here. Biden in 2020 and O’Rourke in 2018 won a majority or a near-majority of districts on the former maps for these bodies, so Republican mappers were even more desperate to gerrymander these lines. Both maps protect incumbents in a similar manner to the Congressional plan with the rural and exurban areas reaching into the suburbs. The legislative plans however go beyond incumbent protection and each attempt to carve up a marginally Democratic seat in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. 

The desire to protect incumbents may end up dooming State House Republicans in future years. County nesting requirements prevented the GOP from linking the Republican dominated rural areas to the suburbs. By giving former Biden-District Republicans seats Trump won, other, formerly safe Republican seats needed to take in Democratic voters. Even more districts than previously become marginal districts that could potentially swing heavily away from the GOP.

Voting rights litigation is a constant factor in Texas redistricting. For example, plaintiffs forced Texas Republicans to draw the new Dallas-based TX-33 into a Hispanic Democratic seat in 2010 (initial 2010 map here). This new Congressional gerrymander disadvantages minority communities across the state, especially since nearly all of Texas’s recent growth came from minority groups. The proposed TX-23 is only 60% Hispanic compared to the 80% or higher in other South Texas seats, limiting minority opportunity. TX-27 has several majority Hispanic counties, including the city of Corpus Christi, inside a seat where White voters historically pick the representative. TX-38 could be a second, overwhelmingly Hispanic seat in the Houston area. TX-18 was previously an African American district, but is here majority Hispanic, an example of regression. Fort Worth minority voters are distributed between four Districts and there could be a fourth minority seat in the region. A majority-minority coalition seat can be drawn in the suburbs north of Dallas. Expect this criticism and more to potentially be levied in future court cases.

I suspect he means that only CD15 is competitive, but CD23 is only Trump+7, which seems competitive enough to me. I also think that over time several others will become more competitive as well, if these districts are allowed to go into effect as is. I’m sure there will be changes, and then of course the lawsuits, though as we well know they will take years to resolve. What we eventually get here is what we’re going to have for awhile. The Current and the Trib have more.

Get ready for redistricting

The next special session starts Monday, and we should expect to see proposed redistricting maps. It’s going to be a rough few weeks, in part because the guardrails are gone, which will allow Republicans to run amuck.

The 2020 census captured a Texas that does not exist in its halls of power: a diverse state that is growing almost exclusively because of people of color and where the Hispanic and white populations are nearly equal in size.

But when the Texas Legislature convenes Monday to do the work of incorporating a decade’s worth of population growth into new political maps, the Republicans in charge — nearly all of whom are white — will have a freer hand to cement their power and try to shield themselves from the change that growth represents.

The 2021 redistricting cycle will mark the first time in nearly half a century that a Legislature with a lengthy record of discriminating against voters of color will be able to redraw political districts without federal oversight designed to keep harmful maps from immediately going into effect.

And now, once those maps are enacted, the voters of color and civil rights groups that for decades have fought discrimination in the courts may face a federal judiciary less willing to doubt lawmakers’ partisan motivations — even if they come at the expense of Hispanic and Black Texans.

“I hate to be an alarmist. I want to look for the silver lining, but I don’t see one,” said Jose Garza, a veteran civil rights attorney who has represented the Texas House’s Mexican American Legislative Caucus for a decade. ”I think that this is a time of great opportunity for the Republicans.”

You can read the rest – none of it is unfamiliar. Tensions are already high due to the quorum break plus the general unhinged racism from state leadership. The early word is that State Senators have already seen a draft map, which will be drawn to be 20-11 for the Republicans, a net loss of two seats for the Dems if it works out that way. The Cook Political Report expects the eventual Congressional map to add two Republican seats to the existing total. It’s going to be fun, just wait and see.

All this assumes that the Lege is allowed to draw non-Congressional maps, which remains a matter of dispute.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has asked a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed by two Democratic state senators against Gov. Greg Abbott over his plan to redraw political districts during an upcoming special session of the Legislature.

In a Wednesday motion, the attorney general’s office argued that the lawsuit is “wrong about Texas law” and is “inconsistent with past practice and judicial precedent.” It asks that the lawsuit be dismissed or suspended until after the redistricting process is concluded.

The lawsuit — filed Sept. 1 by Sens. Sarah Eckhardt, D-Austin, and Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio — argues that the state constitution explicitly requires political districts in the state to be redrawn during the first regular session after the publication of the U.S. census.

[…]

The lawsuit argues that a federal judge has the “exclusive obligation” to draw temporary maps to be used in the 2022 elections and that the legislative redistricting process should wait until 2023, when the next regular session is scheduled to occur.

The senators’ “theory — which seeks to exploit delays in the federal census caused by the COVID-19 pandemic — turns the Texas Constitution on its head,” reads the motion from the attorney general’s office. “That provision prescribes what the Legislature must do, but neither it nor any other provision prohibits the Legislature from redistricting at other times when circumstances call for it.”

See here for the background. I have to assume some kind of ruling is close at hand, if only to prevent future messes. I have not seen any indication of a hearing date, however, so who knows. In any event, enjoy your last weekend before new maps get drawn.

It’s not too late to pass a voting rights bill

Look, we have one queued up.

Senate Democrats are close to an agreement on updated voting rights legislation that can get the support of all 50 Democratic-voting senators, three Democratic aides familiar with negotiations said.

The For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act were introduced in Congress in 2019 and 2021, respectively. Since their introductions, both have been voted on along party lines.

The member-level discussions are complete, a source said, but staff members are going through the text to fix technical issues. No further details have been shared.

The legislation would require the votes of 60 senators, including 10 Republicans, and it’s unlikely that Democrats will get enough Republican supporters.

The bill is part of congressional Democrats’ broader campaign to strengthen voting laws at the federal level to fight restrictive voting laws passed in Republican-led states, such as Texas and Georgia.

Senators, who return from their August recess this week, face a number of items, such as a voting rights measure and an ambitious infrastructure spending package.

“We’ve been talking to quite a few different Republicans who are very interested in doing something that makes sense,” Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Manchin said he has been working with Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, on the issue but didn’t elaborate.

Well, Sen. Murkowski plus fifty Democrats is still well short of 60. Might there be some other option?

With a make-or-break vote looming in the Senate on a sweeping voting-rights and anti-corruption bill, President Joe Biden and his advisers have said in recent weeks that Biden will pressure wavering Democrats to support reforming the filibuster if necessary to pass the voting bill.

According to three people briefed on the White House’s position and its recent communications with outside groups, Biden assured Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that he was ready to push for filibuster reform. Biden’s pressure would aim to help Schumer convince moderate Democrats to support a carveout to the filibuster, a must for the party if it’s going to pass new voting protections without Republican votes. According to a source briefed on the White House’s position, Biden told Schumer: “Chuck, you tell me when you need me to start making phone calls.”

The Senate returns to work this upcoming week, and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer intends to call a vote on the For the People Act, the most ambitious reform bill in decades and the Democrats’ best shot at countering the wave of state-level GOP voter suppression laws this year. But to get the bill out of Congress, Senate Democrats will almost certainly need to change the filibuster, the procedural tactic used by the minority party to block many types of legislation.

Publicly, there are two centrist Democrats who have stated their opposition to changing or abolishing the filibuster, Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. Activist groups and fellow Democratic senators say Manchin and Sinema are the likely 49th and 50th votes both on any voting-rights legislation and especially any filibuster reforms. Sources say both senators are likely targets for when Biden launches his final push to pass a compromise version of the For the People Act.

“I think there’s a clear recognition the president will have a role to play in bringing this over the finish line, and if in order to do that, we need [filibuster] rules reform, then so be it,” says Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.), who helped write the original version of the For the People Act. “I think Joe Biden with his long history and experience in the Senate can see that.”

[…]

Some outside activist groups say Biden and his administration haven’t done enough to make the case for a new voting-rights bill in Congress. “For a long time there was no engagement,” says Fred Wertheimer, president of the government-reform group Democracy 21. Tiffany Muller, president of the anti-corruption group End Citizens United, told Rolling Stone earlier this summer that the lack of urgency from the administration felt even more acute given the energy and organizing happening outside of Washington in support of the For the People Act. “We need that same effort and help (from the Biden administration) on this,” Muller said at the time.

That frustration extended to Biden’s top allies in Congress. Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), whose timely endorsement helped rescue Biden’s flailing presidential campaign in early 2020, begged Biden to endorse a filibuster carve-out for voting rights. During a late-July meeting in the Oval Office, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi pressed Biden to do more on voting rights; Democrats needed action from him, according to a person briefed on the meeting.

In that Oval Office meeting, the source says, Biden made a pledge: If Pelosi and Schumer tried every option they had to pass a voting-rights bill with Republican votes and got nowhere, Biden would get involved himself and lobby the handful of moderate Democrats to convince them to weaken the filibuster so that the For the People Act could pass without any Republican votes.

Since then, the tenor has shifted in the White House in the last month, multiple sources tell Rolling Stone. The White House has devoted more staff to the issue. More importantly, it has given assurances to outside supporters that Biden now plans to push for filibuster reform when necessary. “They have really engaged in a way that can make a difference both on substance and particularly on process as we get closer to this day of reckoning,” Rep. John Sarbanes says. “They appreciate that the electorate that showed up for Joe Biden in 2020 now wants to see Joe Biden show up for them in 2021.”

Here’s where I shrug my shoulders and mumble something about how I hope Joe Manchin, who is one of the sponsors of the John Lewis Act in the Senate, might prefer to do something to help pass his own bill than let it die by inaction. I have no idea what he’ll do and neither does anyone else, but I do like this theory about what animates a Joe Manchin.

So we have all these theories: Manchin is a crypto-Republican; he’s doing the work of his funders; he and Biden have a secret understanding and it’s all going to work out. My own theory is a bit different. It’s not even my theory. Someone mentioned it to me several months ago. But I can’t remember who. The theory is this: all of Manchin’s actions hold together and make sense if you imagine he got up on a particular day, absorbed the CW of the moment and said the first or second thing that came into his head.

This is admittedly a somewhat diminishing read. But Manchin clearly likes the limelight and he doesn’t pretend to be an ideologue. If you use this framework all the various shifts and turns start to make sense. Manchin is the quintessential Washington player, very much a creature of Washington insider culture with all its shibboleths and conventional wisdoms.

It doesn’t get us any closer to where we need to be, and it doesn’t do anything to keep my head from exploding, but at least it makes some sense. As for the rest, light a candle, throw some salt over your shoulder, avoid stepping on any cracks, and hope for the best. Mother Jones and Daily Kos have more.

Three more lawsuits filed against the voter suppression law

It’s a law now, and the legal machines are humming to do something about it.

Though delayed by Democratic quorum breaks, Texas has officially joined the slate of Republican states that have enacted new voting restrictions following the 2020 election.

Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday signed into law Senate Bill 1, sweeping legislation that further tightens state election laws and constrains local control of elections by limiting counties’ ability to expand voting options. The governor’s signature ends months of legislative clashes and standoffs during which Democrats — propelled by concerns that the legislation raises new barriers for marginalized voters — forced Republicans into two extra legislative sessions.

SB 1 is set to take effect three months after the special legislative session, in time for the 2022 primary elections. But it could still be caught up in the federal courts. Abbott’s signature was both preceded and followed by a flurry of legal challenges that generally argue that the law will disproportionately harm voters of color and voters with disabilities.

On top of two federal lawsuits filed last week, three new lawsuits, including one in state district court, were filed Tuesday shortly after it became law.

[…]

The law already faces two legal challenges from Harris County and a coalition of community and advocacy groups that argue SB 1’s rewrite of Texas voting laws creates new hurdles and restrictions that will suppress voters and violates the U.S. Constitution and numerous federal laws.

Abbott’s signature Tuesday drew three more lawsuits that also argue the changes to elections in SB 1 are unlawful because they will disproportionately burden voters of color and voters with disabilities.

“SB 1 is an arduous law designed to limit Tejanos’ ability to exercise their full citizenship,” said Maria Teresa Kumar, CEO of Voto Latino, which is a plaintiff in a federal lawsuit filed in Austin on Tuesday. “Not only are we filing suit to protect the right to vote for all people of color, and the additional 250,000 young Latino Tejanos who will reach voting age in 2022, but to protect every Texan’s right to vote.”

Another legal challenge was filed in state district court in Harris County and raises claims that the law runs afoul of the the Texas Constitution, including its protection against racial discrimination.

[…]

As it worked toward getting the legislation across the finish line, the House also made changes Democrats had been pushing for, including requiring training for poll watchers. Republicans also ditched controversial provisions that would have restricted Sunday voting hours and made it easier for judges to overturn elections — both of which they tried to walk away from after Democrats first derailed the legislation in May during the regular legislative session.

Even with some of those changes, a group of plaintiffs in another federal lawsuit filed Tuesday in San Antonio, including Houston Justice and the Arc of Texas, say the legal intervention was needed to “ensure that the State does not continue to erect barriers” that have both the “intent and effect” of suppressing the votes of marginalized Texans.

“These provisions will harm all Texas voters, but consistent with Jim Crow era tradition, the burdens will be disproportionately borne by Black and Latino voters and voters with disabilities,” the plaintiffs said in their complaint. “S.B. 1 intentionally targets and burdens methods and opportunities of voting used by and responsive to the needs of voters of color, particularly Black and Latino voters, and other vulnerable voters, as evidenced by the 2020 elections.”

There are also questions on whether the U.S. Department of Justice will sue Texas over the new law, as it did Georgia earlier this year after lawmakers there passed a new law to tighten elections.

It remains unclear what, if any, Congressional action could affect the new law.

See here for more on the first two lawsuits. Before I get to the others, let me just say that if the John Lewis Act doesn’t have any effect on the new law, then either the authors of the bill are incompetent or the federal courts really have it in for us. But that assumes the damn thing can overcome the stupid filibuster, so let’s put that question off for later.

For the other lawsuits, here are the basics:

– The first lawsuit referenced is here, and it’s probably best just to print the announcement about it for the relevant details.

Minutes after Gov. Greg Abbott (R) signed voter suppression bill Senate Bill 1 into law on Tuesday, voting and civil rights groups sued to challenge the bill’s most disenfranchising provisions. The complaint, filed by LULAC Texas, Voto Latino, Texas Alliance for Retired Americans and Texas AFT, alleges that the new law imposes an undue burden on the right to vote in violation of the First and 14th Amendments, purposely intends to limit minority voters’ access to the ballot box in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) and disproportionately impacts voters with disabilities and limited language proficiencies in violation of Section 208 of the VRA. The suit asks the court to prohibit the suppressive provisions from being enforced. This is the third lawsuit challenging S.B. 1, as two cases were filed last Friday before the bill was even signed into law.

The provisions challenged in this lawsuit include: criminalizing public officials’ efforts to encourage the submission of absentee ballot applications; additional ID requirements for absentee voting; the effective elimination of drop boxes, drive-thru voting and 24-hour early voting; new obstacles for voters to receive assistance to vote absentee or in person; and the empowerment of partisan poll watchers.

The complaint argues that the passage of S.B. 1 is in direct response to increased voter turnout in the 2020 election, particularly among voters of color, and is meant to “stem the growing tide of minority voter participation.” The lawsuit argues that “by surgically targeting election practices employed in Texas’s largest and most diverse jurisdictions—methods on which the State’s Black and Hispanic populations disproportionately rely—the [challenged provisions] were intended to disproportionately restrict access to the franchise for Black and Hispanic voters.” Furthermore, the suit alleges that certain provisions place an undue burden on the right to vote for elderly voters, voters with disabilities and voters with limited language proficiencies.

Read the complaint here.

All that is courtesy of Democracy Docket, which had promised litigation the minute that SB1 passed in the House.

– The other federal lawsuit comes from the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund:

Today, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF)Reed Smith LLP, and The Arc filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of the Houston Area Urban League, Houston Justice, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., and The Arc of Texas challenging S.B. 1, a new Texas law targeting voting rights.  S.B. 1 includes a series of suppressive voting-related provisions that will make it much harder for Texas residents to vote and disenfranchise some altogether, particularly Black and Latino voters and voters with disabilities.The lawsuit, which was filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas, argues that S.B. 1 violates the First, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act by intentionally targeting and burdening methods and means of voting used by voters of color.

The Plaintiffs also claim that the law violates the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and Section 208 of the Voting Rights Act by imposing voting barriers that will discriminate against voters with disabilities and deny people with disabilities full and equal opportunities to participate in the state’s voting programs.

The lawsuit challenges multiple provisions in SB 1, including:

  • Limitations on early voting hours and a ban on 24-hour voting.
  • The elimination of drive-thru voting centers.
  • The prohibition of mail-in ballot drop-boxes.
  • Limitations on the distribution of mail-in ballot applications.
  • Limitations and possible penalties for voter assistants, including criminal felonies.

Read the lawsuit challenging S.B. 1.

You can read the press release for statements from the plaintiffs.

– The state lawsuit comes from another group we’ve heard from before.

The Texas State Legislature’s SB 1 legislation violates provisions of the Texas Constitution that protect the right to vote, the right to freedom of speech and expression, the right to due process, and the right to equal protection under law, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday by civil rights advocates against Gov. Greg Abbott, Attorney General Kevin Paxton, Deputy Secretary of State Joe Esparza, and the future secretary of state, once that position is filled.

Despite the hardships of voting during a global pandemic, during the 2020 general election, Texas saw one of its highest voter turnouts in decades, particularly among Black voters and other voters of color.  SB 1 was passed on the heels of the successful 2020 election, with the intent to suppress these votes. The legislation includes provisions that expand the power of partisan poll watchers, limit county election officials’ discretion to adopt safe and secure methods of voting, make it more difficult for voters to receive assistance, and place restrictions on absentee ballots, ballot drop boxes, and early voting.

The lawsuit, Texas State Conference of the NAACP et al. v. Abbott et al., was filed in state district court in Harris County, Texas. The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and Dechert LLP are representing the Texas State Conference of the NAACP, Common Cause Texas, three election judges, one voter assistant, and one registered voter in Harris County.

“The scourge of state-sanctioned voter suppression is alive and well, and Texas just became the most recent state to prove it,” said Damon Hewitt, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “With the passage of this bill, Texas legislators know exactly what they are trying to do – use brazen tactics to disenfranchise Black voters, Latinx voters, and other voters of color who are a growing part of the electorate and who turned out and made their voices heard in 2020. This bill violates Texas’ own state constitution and does not advance any legitimate state interests that would justify this wide-ranging attack on the right to vote.”

SB 1 expands the power of partisan poll watchers by instituting criminal penalties for election officials who obstruct their actions, stripping local election officials of the power to take executive action in emergency situations, and exposing voter assistants to increased surveillance and administrative complexities. Furthermore, the legislation restricts nearly every method of voting overwhelmingly used by voters of color in 2020: It limits early voting and ballot drop boxes, curbs how absentee ballots can be distributed and who can vote by mail, and bans drive-thru voting. While the provisions of SB 1 will hinder the ability of all Texans to vote, these new restrictions intentionally and disproportionately impact communities of color.

“Texas’s new voting restrictions targeting voters of color are an affront to our democracy,” said Neil Steiner, partner with Dechert LLP. “We remain committed to ensuring that all eligible voters have a true opportunity to participate in our elections by casting a ballot safely, securely and conveniently, with confidence that their votes will be counted.”

I have only given a brief glance to each of these lawsuits – as you know, I Am Not A Lawyer, I just occasionally try to interpret lawyer-y things on the Internet for other non-lawyers. All of them are quite long and will take me some time to try to understand. I do not offhand know why this one was filed in state court, or why that might be a more promising avenue for redress. That has been a successful tactic in some other states, mostly but not entirely for the battle against partisan gerrymandering, but as far as I know it has not been used in this context here before, other than the unsuccessful challenges to Texas’ age restrictions for voting by mail in the runup to the 2020 election. It’s worth a shot – let a thousand flowers bloom and all that – but I cannot articulate a reason why this way and not that way. If someone else can, I’d love to hear it. I will make an effort to read through these documents and try to answer that myself, but you know how that goes. The Current, the Texas Signal, and the Chron have more.

The tab for voter ID

Impressive.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Texas remains responsible for nearly $6.8 million in legal fees and costs owed to the collection of parties who sued over its voter ID law.

Though the state ultimately won the long-winding fight to keep the voter ID law on the books, a panel of the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday upheld a lower court ruling that found the state is on the hook for that sum — the last vestige of the legal battle over the 2011 restrictions the state set on what forms of photo identification are accepted at the polls.

The Texas attorney general’s office had appealed that lower court ruling, which found the plaintiffs in the litigation — Democratic U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey of Fort Worth, individual voters, voting and civil rights groups, the NAACP-Texas and the Texas House’s Mexican American Legislative Caucus, among others — were the “prevailing parties.”

“It seems obvious that they are,” the 5th Circuit judges on Friday. “Plaintiffs successfully challenged the Texas photo ID requirement before our en banc court, and used that victory to secure a court order permanently preventing its enforcement during the elections in 2016 and 2017.”

Just a quick recap, the original voter ID law that was passed in 2011 was ruled to have had discriminatory intent by a district court judge in 2014, but the Fifth Circuit allowed it to stand while the appeal was made. Both the three-judge panel and the full Fifth Circuit ultimately upheld the district court ruling, but as it was close to the 2016 election by then, a modified version of the law that mitigated some of the harm was implemented. After the 2017 Lege codified those changes, the law was challenged again, and despite another ruling by the same district court judge that the law was still discriminatory, this time the Fifth Circuit ruled in favor of the state, and here we are now. (Yes, SCOTUS was involved in both of these cases, but this has gone on long enough.) The state may press on again with this appeal, but at this point it would seem unlikely they’d win. Perhaps by now we have had more than enough money spent on this cursed thing.

First two lawsuits filed against the voter suppression bill

No time wasted.

The top elections official in Harris County and a host of organizations that serve Texans of color and Texans with disabilities have fired the opening salvos in what’s expected to be an extensive legal battle over Texas’ new voting rules.

In separate federal lawsuits filed in Austin and San Antonio, the coalition of groups and Harris County sued the state over Senate Bill 1 before it was even signed into law, arguing it creates new hurdles and restrictions that will suppress voters and unconstitutionally discourage public officials and organizations from helping Texans exercise their right to vote.

The lawsuits claim the legislation violates a broad range of federal laws — the Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 — and the First, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments.

“Egregiously, SB 1 takes particular aim at voters with disabilities, voters with limited English proficiency — who, in Texas, are also overwhelmingly voters of color — and the organizations that represent, assist, and support these voters,” the plaintiffs in the Austin lawsuit wrote in their complaint.

The plaintiffs in the San Antonio lawsuit,, which includes Harris County, also raise claims that lawmakers intentionally discriminated against voters of color in pushing the legislation.

[…]

The plaintiffs attack head on the lack of evidence that fraud is a widespread problem in Texas elections.

In the San Antonio lawsuit, they argue SB 1’s “additional burdens and restrictions” cannot be justified by invoking “unspecified and unproven voter fraud” when there is no proof that it occurs “beyond the very few examples already identified through Texas’s pre-existing processes and procedures.”

“Rather … SB1 is a reaction to Texas’s changing electorate, which is now more racially diverse and younger than ever before,” they wrote in their complaint.

The claims raised collectively in both lawsuits are as expansive as the legislation is far-ranging.

They include claims on SB 1’s new restrictions on voter assistance, including the help voters with disabilities and those with limited English proficiency are entitled to receive. The plaintiffs point to the reworked oath that a person assisting a voter must recite, now under penalty of perjury, that no longer explicitly includes answering the voter’s questions. Instead, they must pledge to limit their assistance to “reading the ballot to the voter, directing the voter to read the ballot, marking the voter’s ballot, or directing the voter to mark the ballot.”

As part of its claims of intentional discrimination, the lawsuit that includes Harris County as a plaintiff also calls out SB 1’s prohibition on the drive-thru and 24-hour voting initiatives used by the diverse, Democratic county in the 2020 election — both of which county officials said were disproportionately used by voters of color.

SB1 also makes it a state jail felony for local election officials to send unsolicited applications to request a mail-in ballot. Several counties proactively sent applications to voters 65 and older who automatically qualify to vote by mail, but Harris County attempted to send them to all 2.4 million registered voters last year with specific instructions on how to determine if they were eligible.

In outlawing those voting initiatives, Republican lawmakers made it clear they were targeting the state’s most populous county, even though other counties employed similar voting methods.

“My first and only priority is to educate and help voters to lawfully cast their ballots,” Harris County Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria said in a statement. “Voting by mail is not simply another method to vote — for many senior voters and voters with disabilities, it’s their only option to vote. SB1 makes it a crime for me to encourage those who are eligible to vote by mail to do so, effectively making it impossible to fulfill my sworn duty as Elections Administrator.”

Both lawsuits also argue the constitutionality of a section of SB 1 that creates new a “vote harvesting” criminal offense, which it defines as in-person interactions with voters “in the physical presence of an official ballot or a ballot voted by mail, intended to deliver votes for a specific candidate or measure.” The lawsuits argue the language in that section — and the criminal penalties attached to it — are unconstitutionally overbroad and vague and could serve to quash legitimate voter turnout initiatives.

The lawsuits also challenge provisions of SB1 that bolster protections for partisan poll watchers inside polling places, and new ID requirements for voting by mail.

You can see copies of the lawsuits here for Austin and here for San Antonio. I note that Isabel Longoria, the Harris County elections administrator, is a defendant in her official capacity in the Austin lawsuit and a plaintiff in the San Antonio lawsuit. I assume there’s a technical reason why a county elections administrator is named as a defendant in these actions, but I have no idea what algorithm is used to decide which county and administrator. (The Austin lawsuit also includes Dana DeBeauvoir from the Travis County elections office as a defendant, while the San Antonio lawsuit picks the Medina County admin. Go figure.)

I’m not going to speculate on the merits or chances of these lawsuits, which I assume will eventually get combined into a single action. I expect that they have a strong case, and we know from past performance that the Republicans in the Lege tend to be shoddy and indifferent in their work when they pass bills like these, but none of that really matters. What matters is what if anything the Fifth Circuit and SCOTUS deign to find objectionable. For obvious reasons, I’m not going to get my hopes up. I expect the Justice Department to get involved on the side of the plaintiffs, and there’s always the specter of passing the John Lewis Act and making this way easier on everyone. In the meantime, settle in for the long haul, because we know this will take years to come to a resolution. Look to see what happens when (I feel confident saying “when” and not “if”) a temporary restraining order is granted.

Final passage of the voter suppression bill

That’s all for now, we’ll see you in court for what will likely be a frustrating and unsatisfying denouement.

A wave of changes to Texas elections, including new voting restrictions, are headed to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk.

Three months after House Democrats first broke quorum to stymie a previous iteration of the legislation, Republicans in the House and Senate Tuesday signed off on the final version of Senate Bill 1 to further tighten the state’s voting rules and rein in local efforts to widen voting access. Abbott, a Republican, is expected to sign it into law.

The bill was delayed one more time as its Republican author, state Sen. Bryan Hughes, disapproved of language added by the House to address the controversial conviction of Crystal Mason, a Tarrant County woman facing a five-year sentence for a ballot she has said she did not know she was ineligible to cast. Hughes’ objection triggered backroom talks to strip the Mason amendment before the bill could come up for a final vote.

[…]

On Tuesday, Democrats decried the Senate’s objection to the Mason amendment, with state Rep. John Turner, D-Dallas, stating he hoped it was “not because they believe that more people in situations like that of Crystal Mason should be prosecuted or imprisoned.”

[Rep. Garnet] Coleman and Turner were part of the panel that worked out the final version of the bill in backroom talks. Despite their support for the amendment, House Republicans on that panel also signed off on removing it.

The amendment — offered by state Rep. Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park, but worked on as a bipartisan effort — was meant to prevent voter mistakes from being prosecuted as fraud.

“We’re just ensuring that people who do innocent things are not harmed from their past mistakes,” Cain said before it was quickly adopted by the House last Thursday.

Mason was convicted of illegal voting for casting a provisional ballot in the 2016 election while she was on supervised release for a federal tax fraud conviction. Her vote was never counted, and Mason has said she had no idea she was ineligible to vote under Texas law and wouldn’t have knowingly risked her freedom.

Tarrant County prosecutors pressed forward to land the conviction, which was upheld by a state appeals court that ruled that the fact Mason did not know she was ineligible was “irrelevant to her prosecution.” Her case is currently under review by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the state’s court of last resort for criminal matters.

Cain’s amendment would have clarified existing law that currently defines illegal voting as an instance in which a person “votes or attempts to vote in an election in which the person knows the person is not eligible to vote” by emphasizing that a person must be aware of the “particular circumstances that make the person not eligible” and also that “those circumstances make the the person not eligible” to vote.

Mason’s case has played out as Republicans’ baseless claims of rampant illegal voting have intensified. But with lack of widespread evidence, her case has landed among the handful of high-profile prosecutions of people of color.

Mason, who is Black, is appealing her case as the Texas attorney general’s office prosecutes Hervis Rogers, who is also Black, after he was featured in news coverage of the March 2020 primaries for being the last person to vote at Texas Southern University in Houston at 1 a.m. His registration was active even though he was a few months away from completing his parole as part of a 25-year prison sentence for burglary and intent to commit theft in 1995.

Hughes on Thursday said the amendment raised concerns for “people in the building” and “outside the building” that the language could go farther than intended, and noted he believed non-citizens who vote in elections should be prosecuted even if they were not aware they were ineligible. Notably, the Mason amendment could have also affected the state’s prosecution of Rogers, who was charged with two counts of illegal voting.

Hughes also noted the bill still includes language that would require proof beyond a provisional ballot for an attempt to cast an illegal vote to count as a crime.

See here and here for some background. Credit to Briscoe Cain (a phrase I am unlikely to type again anytime soon) but in the end it was more important for the Republicans to keep going after the likes of Hervis Rogers and Crystal Mason because there aren’t any real voter fraud cases for them to tout. Look, either we get the John Lewis Act through the US Senate, or this is our reality until Democrats have full control of state government and sufficient awareness that even the watered down two thirds rule is a trap that (like the filibuster) will not allow them to pass anything of substance. I don’t care to speculate when that might be.

Voter suppression bill passes the House

It was always to be, it was just a matter of when.

After months of drama and political resistance, the curtain has lowered on Democratic attempts to stave off a far-reaching rewrite of the state’s voting laws coveted by Republicans seeking to retain their hold on power in a changing Texas.

One week after finally regaining enough members to conduct business, the Texas House slogged through a 12-hour floor debate Thursday before signing off on a slightly revised version of the Republican legislation that first prompted Democrats to stage a nearly six-week absence from the Capitol. The late-night 79-37 initial vote on Senate Bill 1 moved the state closer to enacting new voting restrictions, including limits on early voting hours and other measures opponents say will raise new barriers for marginalized voters, especially voters of color, who tend to vote Democratic, and those with disabilities.

The House returned Friday to give the bill final approval, 80-41, leaving the House and Senate to resolve their differences before the legislation heads to Gov. Greg Abbott.

“You largely did what you wanted in this bill. You kept changing the bill in the dark, and you backed off agreements we had from time to time that you made with some of us,” state Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, told the chamber’s Republicans before the Friday vote. “But make no mistake this is your bill, your idea, and you will be responsible for the consequences.”

Unlike in the spring regular legislative session, the two chambers are much more aligned in their proposals, with the House legislation embracing proposed restrictions it had not included in its previous version of the bill. On Thursday, it further amended various sections of the bill to more closely match the Senate’s version.

You can read the rest for the gory details. One hopes that a whole bunch of crap that was never debated or vetted will not be crammed into the conference committee version of the bill, as it was during the regular session, but as I’ve said before, Dan Patrick gets to have a say in that. There will be litigation, there will be hard questions and hard feelings for the Dems who came back and created the quorum, which was always going to happen eventually but which could and should have been done in a consensus manner, and there will be hope that the filibuster fanatics in the US Senate will figure out the existential nature of this crisis and pass the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would offer a strong bulwark against this kind of assault. That’s where we are, and now we get to try and stop the rest of the Greg Abbott Primary Campaign Agenda. Have a nice weekend. The Texas Signal has more.

A look ahead to Commissioners Court redistricting

As we know, the Census redistricting data is out, and that means a whole lot of map-drawing is in our future. The main focus on this will be in Austin where the Congressional and legislative maps are re-drawn, but those are not the only entities that have this job to do. Harris County will be redrawing its Commissioners Court map, and this time for the first time in decades it will be done with a Democratic majority on the Court. What might be in store? Benjamin Chou with the Texas Signal provides an advance look at the possibilities.

Over the course of the last decade, population in Harris County boomed, growing by over 630,000 residents from 4.1 million in 2010 to 4.7 million today. Most of the population growth occurred in Precincts 3 and 4, which are also the same precincts currently held by the two Republicans.

In this round of redistricting, the Court will need to tweak the districts so that the four precincts have relatively similar population numbers. For this year’s sake, that means increasing the population in Precinct 2 and decreasing the population in Precincts 3 and 4. To do so, the Democratic-majority can attempt a range of actions that can be simplified into 3 main results: maintain the same 3–2 Democratic majority or increase their majority to 4–1.

The current Commissioners Court map was drawn a decade ago, by the then 4–1 Republican majority. At that time, Republicans held Precincts 2, 3, 4 and the county judge position. The map was drawn with the intent to solidify the Republican 4–1 majority by increasing Republican voters in those three precincts, particularly Precinct 2. The court did so by replacing Hispanic Democratic voters with Anglo Republicans.

They were successful through much of the decade. In the high-Republican turnout year of 2014, Republicans crushed Democrats. Republican Governor Greg Abbott won Precinct 2 by more than 16% of votes and Precincts 3 and 4 by more than 20% each. Even in 2018, when Beto O’Rourke lifted Democratic performance to its most competitive level in a generation, the Republican majority barely crumbled. County Judge Hidalgo, the only one of the five members of the court to be elected county-wide, won by less than 2%. Commissioner Garcia won Precinct 2 by 1%. Last year, when Democrats had a chance to flip Precinct 3, the Democratic candidate lost by 5%.

When considering how to redraw the map, the new Democratic majority will likely keep Precinct 1 solidly Democratic while shoring up Precinct 2 for Commissioner Garcia. The question is whether the court makes Precincts 3, 4, or neither more Democratic so a future challenger has a better chance of ousting the Republican incumbents.

The problem with choosing neither means the Republicans have a chance of flipping the current Democratic 3–2 majority in the event Democrats lose the County Judge position. Similarly, if the Court decides to make only Precinct 3 more Democratic, there remains a risk that Republicans win control because Precinct 3 is not up for election until 2024. Because Precinct 4 is up for election in 2022, the safest bet for Democrats to retain uninterrupted control will be to redraw Precinct 4 more Democratic.

Chou goes on to draw three potential new maps, one that just makes Precinct 2 more Democratic, which would end up with the same Court if Judge Hidalgo wins re-election, and one that shores up Precinct 2 while also turning a radically redrawn Precinct 4 Democratic as well. I’ll let you have a look and see what you think. You can also review this tweet from Hector DeLeon to see the Census population figures for each of the four precincts.

It’s a good writeup, and it captures the choices well. A couple of things that were not directly addressed: One, the Latino drift towards Trump in 2020, which we have discussed before multiple times. We saw that manifest here, though perhaps not as much as in South Texas, but in areas that would affect Precinct 2. Biden carried Precinct 2 in 2020 by a tiny margin, while other Dems generally fell short; in 2018 Beto won Precinct 2 by seven points, while other Dems generally carried it by four or five. For a variety of reasons we don’t know how this will play out in 2022, but we should start with the assumption that Latino voters are a little softer than we’d like, so that we don’t overestimate our position.

Two, we can’t just shove Anglo Republicans into Precinct 1 as a way to aid Precinct 2, because the Voting Rights Act is still more or less in effect, and retrogressing its Black population would be a violation of the VRA. Yes, the thought of a Republican plaintiff filing a VRA lawsuit over this is ironic to the point of causing nosebleeds, but care must still be taken.

Three, as Harris County continues to grow and change demographically, Precinct 3 as it is now will likely become more Democratic in time for the 2024 election without much else being done. Betting on that does entail the risk that the Court could swing Republican in 2022, either via Commissioner Garcia losing or Judge Hidalgo losing. I’m less worried about the latter, and the former can certainly be mitigated against, but this would allow for the possibility of getting to 4-1 without a complete redesign of the county map, which might be controversial politically in ways that are not currently apparent.

It should also be noted that redrawing the Commissioners Court map does the same for the HCDE Trustees map. As it happens, due to resignations and appointments, Dems have a 6-1 majority on that body right now, with all three At Large seats plus the Precincts 1, 2, and 3 positions in their column. I’m certain this will be a lower priority for consideration by the mapmakers, but it is worth keeping in mind.

Beyond that, we’ll see. Commissioners Court is under the same time constraints as the Lege, in that they need to get a new map in place in time for the 2022 primaries, whenever they wind up being. Assuming that will take place in May, and the filing period will be pushed back commensurately, they have a couple of months. Expect to see some action soon – if this is like last time, they’ll hire a consultant to do the actual work, with their specifications, and they will formally approve it once it suits their needs and the public has a chance to weigh in. I will of course be keeping an eye out for this.

Spring Branch ISD lawsuit

I’m late to this, but better late than never/

A former candidate for the Spring Branch ISD school board has filed a lawsuit alleging the district’s election policies are in violation of national laws against voting discrimination.

In her complaint, Virginia Elizondo, a Spring Branch ISD parent who ran for a position on the board in 2015 and 2021, claims that the district’s system of at-large elections violates the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The complaint was filed by attorney Barry Abrams of Blank Rome LLP with the U.S. District Court’s Southern District of Texas, Houston Division on June 18.

Specifically, it cites the clause in the Voting Rights Act that “prohibits enforcement of any voting qualification, prerequisite to voting, standard, practice, or procedure that results in the denial or abridgement of the right to vote on account of race, color, or language minority status.”

Unlike nearby Houston ISD, which uses zoned elections where each of the nine trustees are elected from a geographic zone, Spring Branch ISD uses at-large elections for each of its seven trustees are elected by the entire district and represent the entire district. Several local districts, such as Humble ISD, use at-large elections.

Elizondo’s lawsuit seeks a court injunction prohibiting Spring Branch ISD from using its at-large system of voting.

The complaint states that “Dr. Elizondo (who has a Doctorate in Education from the University of Houston) has standing to seek relief in this suit as a minority district voter who is experiencing vote dilution because of the SBISD at-large system for electing its Board of Trustees.”

It also cites the fact that, according to demographic information from the Texas Education Agency, of the 33,288 that were enrolled in Spring Branch ISD, 19,335, or about 58 percent were Latino or Hispanic whereas white students made up about 27 percent of the student body.

The complaint claims that the current at-large method of electing trustees “results in the district’s Latino and minority citizens having less opportunity than other members to participate in the electoral process and to elect representatives of their choice.”

I have a copy of the lawsuit here; it was filed in June, and as far as I can tell there has been no action relating to it since. I touched on some of these issues when I wrote about Elizondo’s candidacy in the May election. The SBISD Board of Trustees has posted this response, and a recent school board meeting featured some very rowdy residents who wanted something more forceful. Note the featured photo at the top of the story, with the sign from the protesters that says “Don’t HISD My SBISD”, which says quite a bit more than perhaps the sign holders intended.

I’ve written quite a bit in the past decade or so about single member districts and the places where litigation has been waged to implement them as a way of getting any kind of representation for communities of color. Since I’ve been following this issue, cities like Irving and Farmers Branch and most recently Pasadena were ordered to switch to single member districts or a hybrid system; in all cases, the change has resulted in more people of color being elected, often the first ever people of color elected to the respective City Councils. That’s what is at stake in Spring Branch, though the complaint and the SMD proponents are also advocating for more early voting locations on the north side of I-10 where more than 50% of SBISD students reside, and a robust voter registration program in all SBISD high schools. I expect this will take a couple of years to get to a final resolution, but in the meantime there’s a lot that local activists can do to persuade the existing Board to take action on those other items.

Is it really a quorum?

It is if no one is counting too closely.

Texas House Republicans finally got their long-sought quorum Thursday — by the skin of their teeth.

There were 99 members registered as present Thursday evening, the exact number needed to end the 38-day Democratic quorum break over the GOP’s priority elections bill. But it quickly became clear that some of the 99 members were not physically on the floor and instead marked present by their colleagues.

That means that the House could be operating with a tenuous quorum in the coming days, even if more Democrats start returning — though none were giving any indication of that Friday.

While some Democrats conceded Thursday night that the quorum bust was over, others were less willing to admit defeat.

“Based on numerous media reports, it seems evident there was not a true quorum present today — ironic, given this entire session is premised around Republicans preaching about so-called voter integrity,” Rep. Chris Turner of Grand Prairie, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said in a statement.

A group of 34 House Democrats released a statement Friday that called it a “questionable quorum” and warned that Republicans “will lie about the number of legislators present at the Capitol to establish quorum, keep Texans in the dark, and bend the rules to get their way.”

In a follow-up interview, Turner said the apparent lack of a real quorum was “of grave concern.” He declined to speculate on whether the Democratic presence on the floor would grow when the House next meets on Monday.

[…]

If the quorum margin continues to remain on the razor’s edge, Republicans cannot afford to have any absences and would have to continue showing up unanimously or close to it. They proved they were willing to go to those lengths Thursday with the attendance of Rep. Steve Allison of San Antonio, who recently tested positive for COVID-19 and registered as present while isolating in an adjacent room.

Allison tested negative Thursday and plans to be on the floor Monday and the following days that lawmakers are in session, according to his chief of staff, Rocky Gage.

The House can’t do business without a quorum, which is two-thirds of the chamber, a threshold that stands at 100 when all 150 seats are filled. With two vacant seats pending special elections to replace former state Reps. Jake Ellzey, R-Waxahachie, who is now in Congress, and Leo Pacheco, D-San Antonio, who resigned effective Thursday to work for San Antonio College, quorum threshold is currently 99.

The special election for Ellzey’s seat is Aug. 31, though it could go to a runoff at a later date. And the special election for Pacheco’s seat has not been scheduled yet.

The 99 members that effectively make up the current quorum include all 82 Republicans; 14 Democrats who, before Thursday, had never broken quorum or had already chosen to return to the floor; and three new Democratic defectors who announced their arrival shortly before quorum was met Thursday evening: Houston Reps. Armando Walle, Ana Hernandez and Garnet Coleman.

Without a mass return of the remaining Democrats, reaching a quorum in the coming days could still be a dicey proposition.

That is, of course, if House leadership actually counts how many members are physically present — something they have no incentive to do as they seek to put the quorum break in the past. Any member present can request “strict enforcement” of a vote, which would force a more accurate attendance count, but that did not happen Thursday.

“Who is asking for strict enforcement?” one of the Democrats still breaking quorum, Rep. Michelle Beckley of Carrollton, tweeted shortly before the House met and quorum was established.

It is unclear what incentive the members who are showing up have to call for strict enforcement — they are mostly Republicans who are eager to get back to work and move past the quorum break. The same could arguably be said of the Democrats who have been present.

See here for the previous entry. Monday is a hearing day for the voter suppression bill, so if there is going to be a quorum challenge, that would be the day to do it. It’s also possible – likely, perhaps – that more Dems will be there on Monday on the grounds that once the session has begun and business will be conducted, there’s little value in continuing to stay away. At that point, you may as well fight it out in person as best you can. It’s a fight you’ll lose, of course, but the alternative is losing by forfeit. There is definitely a big conversation to be had about why some members decided now was the time to return, but that’s for another day. This is the task at hand. Stace, who focuses on the latest voting rights bill in DC – it is very much not too late to pass that bill, and as an extra added bonus it would defang the Supreme Court and its ability to rubber stamp voter suppression – has more.