Texas 10 lose another one
The court found that the case is premature: "It is undisputed that any new redistricting bill would have a direct relation to voting. According, it would have to be precleared under the [Voting Rights] Act and would thereafter be subject to judicial challenge. However, that time has not yet come."
Update: Findlaw has the decision here.
The Houston Chronicle has these reactions from the players:
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said Friday it will be up to the Republican senators to decide whether to rescind the fines. He said it is time for the Democrats to return to the Senate for their fight.
"I'm pleased the federal court ruled today that the Senate Democrats' legal claims were meritless, and it appears obvious to me they were just stalling for time," Dewhurst said.
Dewhurst said he has no intention of reinstating a Senate procedure that allows a third of the senators to block debate when it comes to redistricting, changing the primary dates or any legislation that was approved by the Senate during the first special session.
While a resolution adopting the fines said the Senators would be barred from the floor, Dewhurst aide Mark Miner said that part of the resolution expired when the second special session ended but the fines and other sanctions remain in place.
U.S. Rep. Martin Frost,D-Dallas, leader of the Democratic congressional delegation, said he believes any plan passed by the Legislature will violate minority voting rights and will not withstand court scrutiny.
Republican redistricting proposals would likely give the GOP a gain of four to seven seats. Republicans argue that is only fair since the GOP holds every statewide office and a majority of the Legislature but only 15 of 32 congressional seats.
"It is clear that any of the proposed Republican maps will face intense legal scrutiny and likely be overturned in federal court later this year," Frost said.
"This is not the battle of the Alamo. This decision is merely the buildup to the battle of San Jacinto, which we will win later this year."
Any redistricting plan passed by the Legislature will face reviews by the U.S. Justice Department and the federal courts for changes that might adversely affect minority voters.
The Democrats also are hoping a U.S. Supreme Court review of partisan gerrymandering in Pennsylvania will result in an opinion that would negate the Republican efforts in Texas.
The Texas House Democratic Caucus and U.S. Reps. Shelia Jackson Lee and Chris Bell of Houston, Martin Frost of Dallas and Nick Lampson of Beaumont have joined their Pennsylvania colleagues in a friend-of-the-court brief arguing in favor of judicial limitations.
J. Gerald Hebert, a lawyer representing the Texas Democrats, said a Supreme Court ruling cracking down on partisan gerrymandering would give the Democrats an opportunity to challenge elections next year if they are held under a new map.
"The Republicans in Texas have made it known that their primary goal here is to replace sitting Democrats with Republicans," Hebert said. "When you have that kind of dominant motive at work, the Supreme Court's decision could have a definite impact on what happens in Texas."
Hebert noted that a three-judge federal court vacated Texas primaries in 13 Houston and Dallas congressional districts in a 1996 redistricting case.
John P. Krill Jr., a lawyer representing the Pennsylvania Senate Republican leader and the Speaker of the House before the Supreme Court, said the Texas Democrats' hopes are not outside the realm of possibility.
"Anytime the U.S. Supreme Court takes a case, they intend to make law," Krill said.
Krill said both he and lawyers representing the Pennsylvania Democrats are at a loss as to what direction the court intends to go. Oral arguments are tentatively set for January.
Under current law as established by a divided Supreme Court in 1986, partisan gerrymandering is legal except when its effects are so devastating as to affect a voters' equal rights. The standard is so loose that it has not stopped partisan gerrymandering.
However, in that same case, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and Chief Justice William Rehnquist said the courts had no business reviewing partisan gerrymandering cases. They argued those were political positions not suited for the courts.
So redistricting lawyers across the country were stunned in June when the court agreed to hear the Pennsylvania case.
Note that the argument in Laredo on Wednesday was done by Paul Smith -- one of the same lawyers who represents the Pennsylvania Democrats.
The Dallas Morning News reports,
“We have no other choice” but to prepare for passage of a map, said Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, chief legal strategist among the senators. “And, once that occurs, we will be back before the Department of Justice, and if necessary, before the court.”
Although Democrats will still lack the votes to pass or kill a new map during the session that begins Monday, they won’t be without leverage: privately, they acknowledged that they can horse-trade with Republican factions that need votes to prevail in an intraparty disagreement over how to redraw West Texas districts.
The Democratic suit centered on the theory that Mr. Dewhurst’s actions represented a change in voting procedures that potentially affected minority voting power, and thus required approval of the federal Justice Department.
That Justice Department recently ruled that no such review was required. Democratic lawyers deemed that decision political and asked the court to overrule it. Mr. West said that the denial of that lawsuit and the defection of Mr. Whitmire haven’t ended the fight.
“This is one of the valleys,” he said. “You can be sure we will be up again.”
Mr. Dewhurst’s spokesman, David Beckwith, framed the Democratic resistance in less noble terms:
“This was a huge waste of taxpayer money,” he said. “You can expect further dilatory tactics from the Democrats before this is over.”
A later AP story quotes Democrats as saying that they will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.