in Houston, Texas
Why the judicial back-and-forth over Texas redistricting matters
Friday, Jan 06, 2012, 11:48AM CST
By Mark Lisheron

The overture to a judicial minuet that may or may not clarify primary elections in Texas begins with the Supreme Court on Monday.

Lawyers for the state of Texas will have an hour to make a case before the high court that a map drawn by a panel of federal judges in San Antonio meant to supplant one passed by the Texas Legislature is legal.

In eight days after that, a federal judicial panel in Washington, D.C. will take up the dance, convening hearings through Jan. 26 over the legal standing of the Legislature’s map. The panel will hear final arguments Feb. 3.

Those rulings and the timing of this choreographed judicial interplay will determine whether or not it was enough for the state to push back its primary to April 3 from March 6 and extend the filing deadline for candidates to Feb. 1.

At center stage is Section 5 of the sweeping Voting Rights Act, passed in 1965 to make illegal practices that disenfranchised minority voters in America. Section 5 required states like Texas with an established history of such practices to obtain from the federal government pre-clearance of changes, including district maps, made by state legislatures.

While Texas applied for pre-clearance, the Department of Justice found the Legislature’s map discriminatory. A D.C. district court ordered the federal judicial panel to rectify the imbalance with a new map, leaving enough time for the state to prepare for its March primary.

Dissatisfied with a map that shifted political advantage from Republicans to Democrats, Texas Atty. Gen. Greg Abbott asked the Supreme Court to decide.

On its face, the Supreme Court’s purview in the case is whether or not Texas must go ahead and use the map created by the judicial panel. Experts are split about the importance of the case, some saying it will have little impact upon the integrity of the Voting Rights Act

Erwin Chemerinsky, a constitutional expert and law professor at the University of California, Irvine, in an American Bar Association essay, says the high court isn’t ruling on whether or not the Section 5 pre-clearance law is Constitutional.

The Supreme Court upheld Section 5 in 1980 and 1973 challenges, he says. And Congress voted to extend the section for another 25 years in 2006.

The case does, however, raise again the issue of federal intrusion upon state prerogatives. In a 2009 ruling, the Court expressed doubts about a section of a law pertaining to a pattern of discrimination in voting that is now generations old and may no longer be valid.

In the meantime, Texas awaits a decision in one court that will give direction to another in the hope of giving some direction to Texas.
Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

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Photo of gavel by flickr user s_falkow, used via a Creative Commons license.
kevin whited
Friday, 01/06/2012 - 12:19PM

** , some saying it will have little impact upon the integrity of the Voting Rights Act **

Some being Ross Ramsey, noted expert in American constitutionalism.

Err, wait, no, not really, just another Texas Tribune journo who could use a strong editor. LOL Of course, another TX journo who could use a strong editor (Paul Burka) is convinced a radical (in his view) Roberts court is going to take out the voting rights act and all that is good with America.

This guy who is not nearly so expert as those two says... we'll see. :)

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