To put it mildly, the redistricting process in Texas is never smooth. But this time around it seems exceptionally bumpy. In particular Texas has four new Congressional districts, and how those districts are drawn could determine whether the GOP keeps control of the House after the 2012 election. Important stuff.
One reason that things are different this time around is that this is the first time since 1960 – before the enactment of the Voting Right Act – that there’s been a Democrat in the White House and therefore a Democratic Justice Department. Which means that for the first time, in a long time, Republicans have to deal with an unfriendly, (to their partisan interests), Justice Department. If they assumed that their current plans would be treated like those in years before, that was a miscalculation. And likely a reason for the exceptional bumpy-ness.
But redistricting is the height of politics. This is about power, partisanship, and survival. Why would a sitting President just sit by and let the opposition party get away with a redistricting plan that looks to have serious legal issues, and puts his party at a disadvantage? And conversely, why wouldn’t the other party try and enact a redistricting plan that is most beneficial to their side? Both sides have much at stake and what’s going on now is how our current system works.
The extremely condensed version of what’s happened is that the Congressional, state Senate and House plans passed by the legislature have not held-up under legal scrutiny. This caused a Federal Court in San Antonio to draw interim maps for each, which the State of Texas challenged, and is now before the US Supreme Court, (Oral argument scheduled for January 9th). There is also going to be a trial, starting January 17th, on whether or not these plans pass preclearance, (Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act), Preclearance: How Texas compares with other states. And because of the way this process has played-out, Texas currently has no legal Congressional, state Senate or House districts.
All of this has caused the 2012 primary in Texas to be moved from March to April, and has reset the entire election year calendar. (There will be one more candidate filing period, starting in late January and ending on February 1st). This is also causing problems at the county level. Counties may need time to redraw their precinct lines, issue voter registration certificates, etc.., once the other lines are set for the 2012 election, County associations ask for a handful of changes to election schedule. There is, literally, a domino effect to the redistricting process.
But underlying all of this is a challenge to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, aka preclearance. It’s possible that the Texas legislature passed such extreme redistricting plans, and a Voter ID bill, just to bring about judicial challenges to the law. Here’s a short synopsis of Section 5:
Section 5 of the Act requires that the United States Department of Justice, through an administrative procedure, or a three-judge panel of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, through a declaratory judgment action “preclear” any attempt to change “any voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure with respect to voting…” in any “covered jurisdiction.”
There was a recent challenge to Section 5 and the law came out mostly unscathed, SCOTUS decision on NAMUDNO, Section 5 – everybody wins. Another challenge to Section 5 is likely come when Texas’ Voter ID law, like that of South Carolina’s law, is not allowed to proceed. With Section 5 out of the way it would be much harder to keep voting laws that restrict voting rights and fairness from being enacted.
Redistricting in Texas will certainly keep the next few months interesting for those who like this kind of political wrangling. Be sure and keep an eye on the Texas Redistricting site for all the latest news.