There’s an extremely odd lawsuit going on in Texas over redistricting, specifically focusing on the maps written in 2011. A federal court ruled last week the 2011 maps were invalid because they violated part of the Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution. It’s an extremely long decision involving three federal judges, but two of the judges asserted Texas legislators did everything they could to make sure white candidates were elected, over Hispanic candidates. Similar assertions were made over white vs. black candidates. Democrats were obviously happy with the decision. Via The Dallas Morning News (emphasis mine):
“This is yet another example of political discrimination by the State of Texas against minority voters,” said Dallas Democratic state Rep. Rafael Anchia, chairman of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, which is a plaintiff in the case.
“Thousands of minority voters are being denied their right to an equal opportunity to choose their elected representatives, just to preserve the party in power,” Anchia said in a written statement. “It took nearly six years of legislative and court battles to confirm that the party in power discriminated against communities of color when drawing Texas Congressional and House of Representative maps.”
Arlington Rep. Chris Turner, the leader of the House Democratic Caucus, said the court’s findings were “shameful and unacceptable — new maps must be drawn immediately.”
A little bit of a history lesson for the fine Arlington rep: the new maps have already happened. The Texas Legislature passed new districts in 2013. What’s even more interesting is these were maps drawn up by a three judge panel in San Antonio. Here how The Texas Tribune described the ongoing saga in 2013.
In 2011 the Legislature passed new Texas House, Senate and congressional maps. Because Texas is one of a handful of states that must get pre-clearance for any changes to election maps, a federal court in Washington, D.C., began looking over what lawmakers had done. Texas Tribune Executive Editor Ross Ramsey explained that the maps came under review from a second court.
“While that pre-clearance litigation was going, a bunch of parties went to another federal court here in Texas, in San Antonio, and said these maps are illegal, throw them out,” Ramsey said.
And the court did just that, replacing the legislative maps with interim maps to be used in the 2012 elections. But now the Legislature wants to make those maps permanent…“to greatly oversimplify this, one side says if the court drew the maps and you ratify the court’s maps, those are almost by definition legal maps,” Ramsey said.
It should be pointed out Turner gave a comment to The Texas Tribune in the 2013 piece, suggesting it’d be best for the legislature to wait for the court to make more rulings, then voted against a bill making the maps permanent. But since it’s now 2017, who really cares what happened in 2013? It almost seems like Democrats want to ignore the 2013 Special Session on redistricting, so they can focus on the “no good, very bad” maps of 2011…maps which don’t exist anymore, except in court proceedings.
The media also appears to have almost forgotten the 2013 Special Session. The Dallas Morning News didn’t mention it in their coverage (except in the response from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton), nor did The Texas Tribune. San Antonio Express-News/Houston Chronicle did mention the 2013 maps, while also noting Democrats believe judges will discuss the 2013 maps in an upcoming status conference.
But the court hearings on the 2011 maps also bring up questions regarding the idea of gerrymandering. There are Democratic voters who are obviously extremely angry about being in a GOP district, who wish things were more proportionally drawn. But HBO’s Last Week Tonight w/John Oliver pointed out it’s their own fault (one minor bit of NSFW language in the video).
Oliver’s suggestion is having independent commissions draw up district maps, and it’s a good idea in theory, but maybe not practice. California’s redistricting commission features five Democrats, five Republicans, and four “Decline-to-State.” Washington’s last redistricting commission featured two Democrats and two Republicans, and a non-voting chairperson. Arizona has two Democrats and two Republicans, plus a registered Independent chair. The biggest issue with having “Decline-to-State” members on a commission is where do their loyalties actually lie. A “Decline-to-State” voter may be someone who prefers Democrats over Republicans or vice versa, even if they don’t register. There’s also the danger of the so-called Independent Commissions just listening to their party bosses and doing their own version of gerrymandering, whether it be preventing third parties from getting votes or being a-okay with four GOP districts and four Democratic district and one “toss-up” district. Is that really fair towards voters?
There’s also the fact some voters are just going to be underrepresented. My opinion doesn’t always get heard in the Texas Capitol because I’m a libertarian. My opinion doesn’t always get heard in Washington, DC because I’m a libertarian (thank Odin for Justin Amash, Thomas Massie, Mike Lee, and Rand Paul). Gerrymandering may be really awful, but it’s also the “least bad” of the other options (except maybe no government, and I doubt there’s enough of a majority out there for that to even be considered).
This isn’t saying there haven’t been times where minorities have been excluded from representation, but there are ways to conquer that issue, with court being one of them. But this lawsuit in Texas isn’t necessarily the right way to go about it because it’s looking at the wrong maps. It shouldn’t be surprising this is happening, because Texas politics is a bloodsport.