Five districts here, five districts over there – what does it matter?
Lawmakers made relatively small changes to the House maps that were used in the 2012 elections, but left the Senate and congressional maps just as they were. If the courts go along, that would mean incumbents seeking re-election would run next year in the same or essentially the same districts that elected them last year.
It has been a long, detailed and contentious process, and it is probably far from over. The short form of our story so far:
The 2010 census resulted in shifts in the distribution of congressional seats from states that lost population to states that grew. Texas gained four seats, for a total of 36.
Minority groups noted the state’s growth was fueled by their populations; 89 percent of the population growth in Texas from 2000 to 2010 came in minority groups, and 66 percent was in the Hispanic population.
The 2011 Legislature, with a Republican supermajority in the House and a near supermajority in the Senate, drew new maps for congressional and legislative elections that were immediately challenged by minority and Democratic plaintiffs as unrepresentative of the state’s population. Their cases were consolidated and sent to a panel of three federal judges in San Antonio.
At the same time, the state asked a different panel of federal judges in Washington, D.C., to pre-clear the maps — a requirement under the federal Voting Rights Act.
The San Antonio judges drew maps for use in the 2012 elections. Their first maps raised objections from Republicans, and the U.S. Supreme Court ordered them to draw new ones using as much of the Legislature’s work as they could.
The timing of the court cases forced the state to delay its primary elections from March to May, and its runoffs from May to July.
After those elections, the D.C. court found evidence of intentional discrimination by lawmakers in the Legislature’s maps for Congress and the Texas House.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear an Alabama case challenging a section of the Voting Rights Act that required Texas and other states with histories of discrimination to get federal permission before implementing new election laws and maps.
This year, Attorney General Greg Abbott urged lawmakers to ditch their own maps — and the lawsuits attached to them — by ratifying the maps drawn by the San Antonio judges for the 2012 elections. That would have the advantage of halving the number of courts involved in the case and could free the state’s lawyers from fighting the intentional discrimination findings attached to the Legislature’s maps.
Lawmakers did that in the first special session. And the Supreme Court ruled in the Alabama case, saying that its formula for which states are subject to preclearance is unconstitutional. Texas was freed from having to prove that its new laws don’t discriminate; instead, the burden of proof moves to anyone suing the state over new laws and maps.
That’s where the Legislature left it. But the U.S. Department of Justice has filed briefs with the San Antonio judges saying that Texas should still be subjected to federal preclearance because of those recent findings that lawmakers intentionally discriminated when drawing maps. That, and the state’s arguments against it, are still pending in court, as are the challenges to the maps approved by lawmakers earlier this summer.
I just wish this sort of churlishness would be ruled unconstitutional. Gerrymandering is a petty way to setup political fights between opponents, no matter what the scale of this fine art of drawing lines.