Redistricting trial could upend Texas state, House districts before 2018 elections
A weeklong trial is continuing in Texas over redistricting, the culmination of a six-year long battle that started in 2011. As the Texas Tribune reported, a three-judge federal district court panel in Texas is “at the end of a week of hearings over the congressional and Texas House political maps adopted in 2013 (after 2011 maps were tossed out as unconstitutional) to decide whether the state’s mapmakers cheated any of the state’s voters out of their electoral influence.”
In March of this year, a panel in Texas found that several US congressional districts violated the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act. In April, a panel in San Antonio ruled that Texas state house districts drawn by the Republican-led state legislature in 2011 were also intentionally discriminatory. This week in Texas, the panel of three judges will decide what must be done with those federal and state maps, and whether they will have to be redrawn before the 2018 elections.
Here’s the background: in 2011, the Texas state legislature drew state house district maps that a federal court in Washington, DC ruled to be discriminatory against the rights of minority voters. The Washington court tweaked the maps so that elections in the state could proceed in 2012. In 2013, the Texas legislature permanently adopted the tweaked maps even though the Washington judges had said that the revised boundaries were meant to be temporary and not reflective of their final judgement of the 2011 maps.
Civil rights groups argue that the legislature in 2013 should have made real changes to the maps in order to solve, rather than paper over, the problem of racial discrimination against voters. As Allan Lichtman, a professor of history at American University, testified this week, “What was done here was to knowingly and intentionally impede the opportunity of African-Americans and Latinos to elect the candidates of their choice.” He also said that lawmakers used rare “procedural deviations” to avoid fixing the discrimination carried over from the 2011 maps.
Also during this week’s trial, the lawyer for the plaintiffs explained how the maps dilute the power of minority voters – in a state that is now majority-minority:
With Texas becoming less white each day, lawyers for minority rights groups opened their push for new maps by parsing the state’s demographic growth, which shows that the population of eligible white voters has significantly declined since 2010.
When asked by federal district Judge Orlando Garcia how this relates to the 2013 maps, the Mexican American Legislative Caucus’ lawyer, Jose Garza, indicated it was proof that Texans of color don’t have proportional representation under the maps currently in place.
“Even today … minorities are underrepresented when measured against population data and population figures,” Garza said.
The judges on the San Antonio panel could throw out the legal challenge against Texas, or they could have new district maps drawn before the 2018 election. The latter could lead to Texas having to return to federal oversight of its election laws, which it was freed from in 2013. Before then, Texas (and other states) had to undergo pre-clearance, a process where federal courts or the Department of Justice had to sign off on state changes to election laws and voting districts. But states can be pulled back into federal oversight if there’s enough evidence of intentional discrimination against minority voters.
Fort Worth robberies target Hispanics because “they don’t call the police”; City Council dallies on action
Fort Worth is currently the only large city in Texas to not have joined onto the lawsuits against SB 4, the state’s anti-immigrant law. Three City Council members have spoken out against the new law, but action would take at least five votes, which immigration advocates say they do not have. A local columnist, Bud Kennedy, pointed out last week that Fort Worth will in the coming decades be mostly Hispanic, and if they don’t take action, “today’s [city] leaders will be remembered for not bucking the Legislature or Washington.”
A string of at least a dozen robberies targeting Hispanics has recently plagued Fort Worth, giving evidence to arguments from advocates and law enforcement officials that anti-immigrant laws lead to decreased public safety for communities as a whole. As one suspect explained, Hispanics have been targeted “because they’ve got money and they don’t call the police.”
In one tragic incident, taco vendor Jose Ontiveros was selling tacos outside a nightclub when he spotted two teenagers robbing a male clubgoer. When Jose, 58, intervened, he was shot in the abdomen and later died.
A local Republican further inflamed the issue after the group United Fort Worth, which opposes SB 4, won support from one of Jose’s cousins and said that it wanted to meet with the entire Ontiveros family. Former Colleyville Mayor Pro Tem Chris Putnam tweeted that he would “call ICE to let them know” about the meeting.
A local advocate slammed the hateful action: “These are Fort Worth citizens here. This is the kind of hatred unleashed on the state of Texas.”
Cities continue to support anti-SB 4 lawsuits; Rep. Romero files repeal bill
This week in Texas, Texas State Rep. Ramón Romero filed a bill to repeal SB 4 when the legislature meets for a special session this month. As he said:
My hope is that representatives, as they’ve gone home and done their research, maybe they understand we rushed to pass SB 4 without understanding its full extent, and the economic impact it’s going to have on our state.
Meanwhile, even more cities joined onto the legal efforts against SB 4. The city of La Joya became the first in the Rio Grande Valley to take legal action, while the city of Palmview held a special meeting during which they accepted the city attorney’s recommendation to support the lawsuit. The Mexican American Legal Defense Organization, which is leading the suit, is not actually accepting any more plaintiffs in the case at this time, but is welcoming support via amicus briefs.
As La Joya Mayor Pro-Tem Mary Salinas said:
SB4 reeks of discrimination, racism and some undertones of hatred. The ultimate goal of this bill is to separate families, hurt children and bring grief to our Hispanic community. We cannot stand for that. Why would anyone that is placed in a public position to serve his people come up with this heartless scheme of hurting the people they’re supposed to be protecting?
Echoed Palmview City Councilmember Joel Garcia:
This is unnecessary, it will do more harm than good. There’s a time and place to ask for citizenships, such as checkpoints and port of entries. But I don’t think it’s the place of a police officer, especially if they’re untrained in immigration law, to handle matters of citizenship when we have federal agents who already do that.
Meanwhile, advocates in the small town of San Marcos, Texas, population 44,894 are urging their City Council to take action against SB 4. Almost fifty local businesses, as well as 500 San Martians, have called upon the Mayor and Council members to join the lawsuit against the legislation.
Harris County, however, where Houston is located, voted against joining the SB 4 legal fight this week over heavy protests from advocates. County Commissioners said a lawsuit would put Harris County on a “slippery slope” in opposing future state bills. Daniel Candelaria, an organizer with United We Dream, said “it’s kind of disappointing to see our elected officials doing that with something that means so much to so many people in the county.” The city of Houston itself has already voted in favor of joining the lawsuit.
James C. Harrington, founder and former director of the Texas Civil Rights Project, called on advocates to begin boycotting the state over SB 4:
The time has come for us Texans to promote an economic boycott of our state until the misnamed “anti-sanctuary” law, Senate Bill 4, is repealed and state officials end their war on immigrants. We should begin a campaign to ask conventions, conferences, and major sports events to take their business elsewhere…
Arizona’s passed a similar “show-me-your-papers” law, but legal challenges have blunted it. Even the Arizona law didn’t require local authorities to honor ICE detainer requests, as SB 4 does. Arizona backed down in the face of an economic boycott. We should make Texas do the same.
Until state officials jettison SB 4, halt their war on immigrants, and pay heed to the voices of law enforcement, business associations, and the Hispanic community, we have no choice but to ask conventions, conferences and major sports events to take their business elsewhere.
An op-ed from Gissela SantaCruz, a writer at the Austin American-Statesman, wrote that state Attorney General Ken Paxton is ignoring the contributions of Dreamers by going after DACA:
Short-sighted. That sums up the recent immigration-related ultimatum presented by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and his counterparts of nine other states to President Donald Trump and his administration.
A state AG’s job is to protect the best interest of residents — in Paxton’s case, Texans — and not to provoke issues that potentially brings harm to the state…
Clearly, Paxton and friends have yet to grasp that Dreamers have made and could continue to make positive contributions in Texas and across the country.
“Their evident xenophobia is not remotely consistent with the trajectory of our nation’s history and future progress,” said Thomas Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, in a statement. “Their political careers and each of their states will suffer from their mean-spirited stupidity”…
As Dreamers earn more, they spend more – and that benefits everyone. As higher incomes allow for bigger purchases, local and state tax revenues increase. More for the benefit of all. Paxton’s ultimatum would mean less.
It’s fair to say those who courageously come out of the shadows to apply for DACA are driven and motivated to make positive impacts in the cities and towns where they live. Dreamers under DACA’s protection are and can be Texas’ next generation of business owners, health care providers, educators and contributors to a stronger economy.
An attorney general should see that value in that. It’s sad that Paxton can’t.