In Defense of Maps Deemed Discriminatory, Texas Appeals Redistricting Ruling

by | August 21, 2017

By Chuck Lindell

Three days after a federal court ruled that Republican lawmakers drew congressional districts to intentionally discriminate against minority voters, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the decision and protect districts in Travis and Bastrop counties from having to be redrawn.

In a separate filing Friday, Paxton asked the San Antonio-based federal court to delay enforcement of its Tuesday ruling while the appeal proceeds, arguing that a stay is needed to avoid disrupting the 2018 primaries.

State officials have said that new maps would have to be ready by about Oct. 1 to meet deadlines for setting precinct lines and to allow candidate filing for the 2018 primaries to begin, as scheduled, in mid-November.

If a delay is not granted by Wednesday, the state will ask the U.S. Supreme Court block enforcement, Paxton told the court.

Paxton also told the lower court that Gov. Greg Abbott has declined to call a special session to redraw the districts, saying there wouldn't be enough time and that doing so would waive the state's right to appeal a ruling "with which it vigorously disagrees."

Paxton announced the appeal by vowing to "aggressively defend the maps on all fronts."

"Judges should get out of the business of drawing maps," Paxton said in a written statement. "We firmly believe that the maps Texas used in the last three election cycles are lawful."

The three-judge panel, however, ruled unanimously that Republicans in the Legislature drew maps that intentionally discriminated against Latino and African-American voters, who tend to favor Democrats, in violation of the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act.

The judges ordered two districts to be redrawn: District 35, held U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, and District 27, held by U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi.

The court ruled that in drawing Doggett's district, Republicans improperly used race as a tool for partisan goals by minimizing the number of Democratic districts and by attempting to unseat Doggett by extending the new district to San Antonio and boosting its Hispanic population, making it more likely that voters would choose a Latino candidate.

Farenthold's district, which includes the Coastal Bend along the Gulf of Mexico and stretches north to include southern Bastrop County, was improperly drawn to reduce the strength of Latino voters, the court ruled. Previously, the district extended south to Brownsville and was heavily Hispanic.

As part of its ruling, the three-judge panel said it would hold a hearing beginning Sept. 5 to begin drawing new districts if Abbott declined to call a special session on redistricting.

To prepare for that hearing, if needed, the court ordered all sides to "consult with their experts and mapdrawers" to prepare plans that correct problems in the two districts "yet minimize the effect on adjoining districts." Each side can offer up to four maps for the judges' consideration.

Tuesday's ruling could have a ripple effect on other seats in Travis County, a Democratic stronghold that was broken into five congressional districts -- four represented by Republicans and one by Doggett.

Doggett criticized the state's appeal and promised to run for re-election in whatever district emerges from the legal process.

"This desperate, highly questionable Paxton-Abbott maneuver comes after yet another ruling against the state of Texas for intentional discrimination," he said.

(c)2017 Austin American-Statesman, Texas