STATUS OF TEXAS' REDISTRICTING PROCESS
(AS OF 12/13/2011)
During the 2011 Regular Session, the Legislature passed redistricting plans for the State Board of Education, the Texas Senate and the Texas House of Representatives, and during the First Called Special Session, the Legislature passed a plan for Texas' U.S. congressional districts. Each of the legislatively-drawn plans can be accessed for viewing at District Viewer (select "Base Plans", then select "Category: District Plans Enacted by the 82nd Legislature, 2011"). My September 2011 Email Update outlined the process for the state's implementation of the plans, some of which is repeated here along with an update on the current status of the process.
Since Texas is covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, redistricting plans are required to go through a process called "preclearance" before they can be implemented. The preclearance process gives consideration to whether an election change may negatively impact voting rights on the basis of race, color or language group. This process requires submission of all election changes (in this case, redistricting plans) to either the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) or the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia (D.C. Court) for approval.
On July 19, 2011, the Texas Attorney General submitted Texas' four redistricting plans to the D.C. Court asking for a declaratory judgment validating the plans under Section 5. The DOJ, which is a party to the suit, objected to preclearance of the Congressional plan and the plan for the Texas House of Representatives on the basis that the plans violated Section 5. The DOJ did not object to preclearance of the Senate and State Board of Education plans. On September 22, 2011, the D.C. Court pre-cleared the State Board of Education plan making it effective immediately. However, on November 4, 2011, the D.C. Court denied a motion for summary judgment filed by the state asking for a similar declaration on the Senate, House and Congressional plans. As a result of the D.C. Court's denial of the motion, preclearance of these plans will be determined by a trial during which the D.C. Court will consider the evidence of the parties, including the DOJ. The trial has been set to take place during the week of January 17-26, 2012.
In addition to preclearance hurdles, legal challenges to Texas' redistricting plans have been filed in various courts across the state. The suits have been brought by individuals, candidates for office, officeholders and organizations representing various interest groups. All of the cases were consolidated for trial in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, San Antonio Division (San Antonio Court). For the most part, the challenges allege the plans violate the Voting Rights Act by negatively impacting minority voting rights under Section 2 of the Act. Section 2 prohibits a state from using any "standard, practice or procedure," including a redistricting plan, "which results in denial or abridgement of the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color or membership in a protected language minority group." A three-judge panel presided over a ten-day trial of the cases, which concluded on Friday, September 16, 2011 (one late filed case will be tried at a later date). The San Antonio Court has decided that it will not issue an opinion in any of the Section 2 cases until the conclusion of the preclearance trial in the D.C. Court. This may be because any plan that is not precleared by the D.C. Court must be redrawn by the San Antonio Court. Waiting for the results of the preclearance case will allow the San Antonio Court to address all voting rights issues, if any, together.
The unfortunate result of all this is that there is no certainty about where district lines will be drawn for the Congressional, Texas House and Texas Senate districts, nor will there be until, at the earliest, after the preclearance trial in the D.C. Court has concluded. For this reason, the San Antonio Court issued an order adopting "interim" redistricting plans that were intended to be used in the upcoming election. Links to the interim plans can be found on the Texas Redistricting homepage. In response to the order, the Texas Attorney General, representing the state, filed a request with the United States Supreme Court to stay implementation of the interim plans. In conjunction with the request, the state also asked the Supreme Court to reverse the San Antonio Court's order implementing the interim plans and remand the case back to the San Antonio Court with instructions to retry the case on an expedited basis and issue revised interim plans. On December 9, the Supreme Court temporarily granted the stay and set a hearing for January 9, 2012. As a result of the stay, the Attorney General requested that the San Antonio Court stay all deadlines and requirements related to the upcoming elections, including requirements related to the March primary elections. The hearing on this request was held on Tuesday, December 13 during which the San Antonio Court imposed a candidate filing deadline of December 19 with the caveat that the filing period would be reopened if necessary when interim districts are determined. The San Antonio Court indicated that proposed changes to the dates for conducting primary elections will be considered at a later time.
As I mentioned in the September 2011 Email Update, the term of office for a senator is four years, which means that senators run for office in alternating two-year election cycles. However, this time, because redistricting will create new districts, candidates for all 31 Senate districts, including myself in District 16, will be on the ballot. Even though there is a possibility that District 16 could change again as a result of the preclearance process or ongoing legal challenges to the plan, I filed for re-election in the District on Monday, November 28, and I continue to conduct my re-election campaign on the assumption that the newly-drawn Senate District 16 will not significantly change.