Supreme Court decision puts Texas primary in limbo again



Bio | Email | Follow: @MarkW_KVUE

Posted on January 20, 2012 at 7:25 PM

Updated Saturday, Jan 21 at 11:31 AM

AUSTIN -- A U.S. Supreme Court decision means Texas' already postponed primary elections will likely move again, leaving no end in sight to the battle over redistricting.

The court's nine justices decided Friday to grant the state's request to stay interim maps for U.S Congress, state House and state Senate drawn by a three judge panel in San Antonio -- ordering the judges to redraw them closer to what was intended by the state's Republican Legislature.

In the meantime, Texas still can't use the Legislature's maps until they're approved by another set of judges in Washington, D.C.

The bottom line if you're a voter -- it's not clear who represents you, and it's not clear when you'll find out.

Both parties agree, it's a mess.

First-term State Representative Paul Workman of Austin is a Republican, and like many elected representatives across the state, the uncertainty has put his first campaign for re-election virtually on hold.

"It's a huge deal for many of them because they really don't know who they're representing yet, and what area they'll be running in," said Workman. "People were paired that weren't paired before, people that were paired before are not paired now."

Workman takes exception to the notion that Republican legislators who designed the maps are at fault for the present crisis.

"The Democrats who controlled the state Legislature for 100 years drew maps the way they wanted them, and the Republicans are now controlling the state Legislature and they're drawing maps they way they want them," said Workman. "This whining by the Democrats -- it's a little old."

The main concern for many voters is that depending on how the maps are drawn, some minority districts could have a hard time electing a minority representative from their own community. Of course, both parties want to draw maps that make it easier for their candidate to get elected, and the party that's in charge gets to do it.

"There's a real sense that at the ground level this time the system is really in flux and broken," said Texas Politics Project Director Jim Henson.

Henson scores the court's decision a victory for Texas Governor Rick Perry and the state's Republican leadership, who designed the original maps and asked the court to throw out interim maps that gave Democrats several seats back.

"It's a pretty good day for the Republican party writ large," said Henson. "That said, there are a lot of specific officeholders that one way or the other would really like to see this settled so they know where there districts are and where they're running."

Many Democrats are claiming victory as well, since the state still can't use the original maps drawn by the Republican-controlled Legislature.

"While the delay is unfortunate, it's better to get it right and uphold the principals of the Voting Rights Act and get us a district here in Central Texas with which we'll live for a decade, to get that district one that will ensure accessible representation," Congressman Lloyd Doggett told KVUE Friday.

"I think the reason people should be concerned is that these crooked maps that extend over hundreds of miles, they assure that no member of Congress, regardless of whether they're Democratic or Republicans, can be truly as accessible as people deserve, can be as truly responsive to a unique community of interests as they should be," said Doggett.

The immediate result is that Texas will likely have to move its primary again and consider holding split primaries costing taxpayers double. Part of the issue is it takes time to print ballots, mail them out, and logistically prepare for a primary election. In order for the April 3 primary compromise to hold, the matter would have to be settled by the end of January.

"The whole process is royal," said Henson. "It's worth noting that what this does is continues the state of complete chaos in the Texas electoral system, at least as far as the next primary is concerned."

Friday's decision resulted in a battery of statements in response.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott:

"The Supreme Court confirmed that the San Antonio court drew illegal maps, without regard for the policy decisions of elected leaders. As the Justices point out, courts are ill-suited to make policy judgments and redistricting is primarily the responsibility of the State. The Court made clear in a strongly worded opinion that the district court must give deference to elected leaders of this state, and it's clear by the Supreme Court ruling that the district court abandoned these guiding principles."

"The Supreme Court's swift decision will allow Texas to move forward with elections as soon as possible, under maps that are lawful."

Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst:

"I'm pleased that the U.S. Supreme Court halted a clear case of judicial overreach by the San Antonio court and upheld the Texas Legislature's basic authority in the redistricting process.  I am hopeful the San Antonio court will now move forward expeditiously to allow Texans to cast their ballots in the primary election on April 3rd."

Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, Chairman of the Texas Mexican American Legislative Caucus:

"This morning the Supreme Court of the United States clearly rejected the State of Texas’ position regarding the interim use of legislative maps pending the pre-clearance process.  Instead the Court remanded the case back to the San Antonio Court with guidance on how to proceed.  The Court was clear in its order that lower courts cannot incorporate any state maps with legal defects."

“It is not a stretch to say that Texas’ enacted maps are riddled with legal deficiencies and we look forward to drawing a better interim map now that we know the San Antonio court can rely on the evidence presented at trial that Texas’ maps are discriminatory both in purpose and effect.”

Texas Democratic Party spokesperson Anthony Gutierrez:

“The Supreme Court did not strike down the interim maps. They issues they had pertained to the process by which the court arrived at new maps, not necessarily the maps themselves."

"While it is not clear what the final districts will look like at this point, what is clear is that the state’s original maps have been found to be discriminatory in some way by every court which has examined them."

"The state’s maps completely ignored the demographic realities of Texas. The Supreme Court did not approve the state’s maps and we don’t expect they ever will.”

Republican Party of Texas chairman Steve Munisteri:

 "We are pleased that the Supreme Court recognized that the Western District three-judge panel exceeded its authority in drawing lines for our elected officials. The opinion stated very clearly that the Legislature's intent and judgment is an important consideration and "starting point" in the process of judicially redrawing maps and that the Legislature’s intent should not be overlooked. I am especially pleased that the Supreme Court apparently took notice of the Republican Party of Texas’ advisory which we filed last week and our subsequently filed brief in support of that advisory. In those documents, we alerted the Court to the fact that an expeditious decision was needed in order to maintain our current April 3rd primary schedule, to prevent havoc with our elections, and to protect the parties’ State Conventions as well. Again, we would like to thank Chris Ward and the law firm of Yetter Coleman LLP who did a fabulous job in providing a brief pro bono on a quick turnaround."

"I am hopeful that the Western District three-judge panel will issue new maps in time for us to maintain our current April 3rd primary. Until the panel issues new orders, we will not know how many legislative districts will likely be Republican and how many will be Democrat. Thus, any conclusion as to the overall result of today’s ruling by the Supreme Court will have to be withheld until that time. In the meantime, the RPT will continue to advocate for an election schedule that will allow an early April primary."

Do you think the Texas redistricting map controversy will be worked out in time to hold the Texas primaries on April 3? Let us know on our poll on Facebook on The KVUE Insider.