The lesson here is straight from Wall Street: Sometimes the bulls get rich. Sometimes the bears get rich. But the hogs always get slaughtered. The Republicans were the hogs. They sought to push through maps that did not make a good faith effort to reflect Hispanic population gains, and they paid the price in court. The Democratic Lone Star Report issued this statement on November 8 following the Court’s order:
Earlier today, a three-judge panel in the DC Federal District Court denied a motion by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott that all three Texas redistricting plans be approved without a trial on the merits of the plans. The Court ruling has the practical effect of blocking the use of the Republican plans for the 2012 elections. Congressional, State House and State Senate plans used for the 2012 elections will now be drawn by a three judge federal panel in San Antonio. The Texas Court is expected to order new plans by the end of November.
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Abbott employed a forum-shopping strategy of bypassing the Obama Department of Justice and its preclearance process and going straight to federal district court in the District of Columbia–a court comprised of two George W. Bush appointees and one Barack Obama appointee. Abbott then moved for summary judgment on the state’s contention that the state’s House, Senate, and Congressional redistricting plans “neither have the purpose nor will have the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race, color, or membership in a minority community and otherwise fully comply with Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act” [citation omitted] and that the state’s maps may be implemented without delay.”
So far, so good, as far as the state was concerned. Oral argument took place on November 2, resulting in an order issued by the D.C. Court: “If any one of the plans is not precleared by this Court at this stage in the proceedings, the District Court for the Western District of Texas must designate a substitute interim plan”–that is, draw its own maps, throwing out the state’s maps–“for the 2012 election cycle by the end of November.”
The D.C. Court issued its order on November 8:
Having carefully considered the entire record and the parties’ arguments, the Court finds and concludes that the State of Texas used an improper standard or methodology (my emphasis–pb) to determine which districts afford minority voters the ability to elect their preferred candidates of choice and that there are material issues of fact in dispute that prevent this Court from entering declaratory judgment that the three redistricting plans meet the requirements of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Accordingly, it is hereby ordered that the Motion for Summary Judgment is DENIED.
What was the “improper standard or methodology?” A House Democrat who is knowledgeable about redistricting issues believes that the improper methodology was to manipulate Democratic districts so that minority communities with histories of low voter turnout (for example, communties that have substantial immigrant populations) were moved into newly drawn districts, to depress turnout, and those with histories of high voter turnout were moved into other districts. One example of this manipulation is the 23rd Congressional District, currently represented by Republican Quico Canseco. The new map did not change the number of Hispanics, but it removed from the district Hispanic areas with a higher percentage of voting and replaced them with Hispanics with a lower percentage of voting.
Now the focus shifts to the three-judge panel in the Western District of Texas (San Antonio). District judges Orlando Garcia and Xavier Rodriguez and Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals judge Jerry Smith will draw the interim maps that will be used in the 2012 elections.
What is likely to be the impact of these maps? The same Democrat I spoke with concerning the issue of “improper methodology” said, “There is now a band of possibilities ranging from 5 new Democratic seats in the state House of Representatives to 16,” in a presidential year that is likely to generate a high turnout of minority voters. Most of the gains would come in urban areas with high population density. “The Court doesn’t need to reinvent the map,” the Democrat said. Most of these gains would occur in densely populated urban areas, particularly in Tarrant, Dallas, and Harris counties, where small tweaks in lines can make a significant difference. Democrats could possibly pick up a seat in McLennan and Bell counties, and Fort Bend County could elect an Asian Democrat. The D’s will also seek to win back the Garza, Aliceda, Pena, and Corpus Christi districts they lost in the 2010 Republican sweep.
I’m not suggesting that Democrats are going to reverse the verdict of the 2010 elections. Their brand is tarnished and their party lacks a fundraising base or infrastructure. But if they can raise their numbers from 50 to 60, they can be an effective voice on the floor again and in crucial battles like school finance, they can join with rural Republicans to form a majority.