Redistricting Update IV: Unraveling the Redistricting Tangle
The Republican Party of Texas has received numerous emails and calls over the last few days inquiring about the status of the redistricting lawsuit. It has become apparent as a result of these questions, that many of our Republican activists are confused as to what issues are actually before the San Antonio three-judge panel, what the Supreme Court decision actually meant for the process, and what the role of RPT is in this process.
This confusion was heightened by a wholly inaccurate story in "The Hill" (a DC publication), which was then reinterpreted and disseminated through email chains this weekend. This particular article and the emails spreading it, stated that the Republican Party of Texas was in the process of negotiating trading Congressional districts in return for (among other things) saving a convention deposit. These false reports were sent out despite the fact that the Party has sent out regular updates on exactly what was occurring, including one on Saturday that clearly stated "The Republican Party of Texas has not been invited to participate in these discussions..."
Understandably, this has been a confusing time for party activists and candidates. Among the general confusion, these sorts of emails and reports have heightened many questions, so in this update, the RPT would like to explain the current situation as we best understand it.
As a piece of important background to first discuss - the legislative maps were originally drawn by the State Legislature and signed by the Governor. Various plaintiffs' groups (who include: MALC, NAACP, LULAC, Texas Latino Redistricting Task Force and Democratic elected officials) filed suit against the Speaker of the House, the Governor, the Lt. Governor, the State of Texas and both the Texas Democratic Party and the Republican Party of Texas, to prevent elections using the legislatively drawn maps. The state and the elected officials were named, presumably, because they are the entity that created the maps. As best as we can tell - the state parties' were sued to enjoin the chairmen from holding primaries under the lines drawn by the Legislature.
The Attorney General represents the State of Texas and the elected officials who are defendants in the suits. It is his office that is charged with actually defending the State and its maps. The RPT's position is that we were not even a necessary party to the original lawsuits because we did not draw the maps and are not charged with the responsibility of defending them. We also argued that there was no reason to enjoin the Party from holding the primary in the legislatively-drawn districts because the Party would use whatever maps became final by Court order. Consequently, at the beginning of the original trial in front of the San Antonio three-judge panel, not only was the Republican Party of Texas dismissed from the lawsuit, but so were the Lieutenant Governor and the Speaker of the House, as neither were considered necessary parties. The case proceeded to a trial with Attorney General Abbott and his team defending the State of Texas and its maps. The Democratic plaintiffs sought and received from the San Antonio three-judge panel, an injunction preventing the maps enacted by the legislature from being used in the 2012 elections prior to being precleared under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Due to this injunction, interim maps had to be drawn, and were issued by this same court last November in a split (2-1) vote.
Meanwhile, Senator Wendy Davis filed a new lawsuit just on her district, and again included the Republican Party of Texas. We have been seeking dismissal in that case as well, but as of this date, we have not been dismissed. The Republican Party of Texas has filed numerous advisories to alert the court that as they move forward in scheduling primaries, that they needed to be aware of potential consequences to the Party's precinct conventions, county conventions, state conventions, as well as time periods necessary to accomplish getting out early ballots, complying with the MOVE act, etc.
When the Supreme Court agreed to hear Attorney General Abbott's appeal of the three-judge panel's decision issuing interim maps, the Supreme Court consolidated the Davis case with the other cases for purpose of their action. This move put the Republican Party of Texas as a party to the case in front of the Supreme Court. That is why the Republican Party of Texas filed a brief with the Supreme Court as to issues pertaining to the Primary scheduling and urging the Supreme Court for a quick ruling and action in the case. As noted in previous reports, that effort was successful and the Supreme Court remanded the case back to the San Antonio three-judge panel for further action.
The three-judge panel is only considering interim maps, not final maps. This is an important distinction, but it has been confusing to many for what it means. When the legislative maps were challenged, the three-judge panel was tasked with getting a preliminary ruling on maps because a final ruling could not be issued until all the potential legal challenges are resolved, including challenges to the maps before a different three-judge panel in Washington D.C. which is dealing with alleged violations of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.
When the Supreme Court issued its opinion, it ruled that the three-judge panel had gone too far for multiple reasons. For example, the three-judge panel revised lines in some districts so as not to split precinct lines, and indicated that they did so for the greater public good. The Supreme Court ruled that the three-judge panel did not have the right to alter lines on this basis because the Legislature allowed the splitting of precinct lines, and it was beyond the scope of their duty to create their own maps based on the public good. Thus, a logical conclusion from this portion of the ruling is that the districts that were altered by the San Antonio three-judge panel, on this basis alone, should be restored to the legislatively drawn lines. We expect that they will be.
However, there were also challenges to the district lines on the basis of alleged violations of the Voting Rights Act - Sections 2 and 5 in particular. The Supreme Court indicated that the San Antonio three-judge panel could not presume that the legislative map violated those sections without there first having been a judicial determination of that fact. But the Supreme Court also indicated that the three judge panel could alter the legislative lines if they determined there was "reasonable probability" that the maps would be found in violation of the Voting Rights Act. To complicate things further, there is action in front of the previously mentioned three-judge panel in Washington D.C., which is determining whether certain Texas districts actually do violate Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Their ruling has not come down yet - but the plaintiffs have been arguing in front of the San Antonio three-judge panel to delay any additional rulings on the maps until that three-judge panel in Washington D.C. rules, so that final maps can be put into place.
Since there is no guarantee that we can get a ruling anytime soon, or get a ruling in time to accomplish a timely primary election, and since the Supreme Court did not say to wait on that ruling - the Attorney General's office has been pushing for an immediate decision by the San Antonio three-judge panel. This is a position that the Republican Party of Texas thinks is reasonable and which we support.
One thing needs to be clearly understood about the Supreme Court's decision so as to understand where we are in the process. When the Supreme Court ruled that the San Antonio three-judge panel's maps were stayed, the Supreme Court did not reinstate the legislature's maps, but instead, gave the task of redrawing maps back to the same San Antonio three-judge panel with the instructions to draw new maps in accordance with the criteria of their decision. This means that it will be the San Antonio three-judge panel that ultimately draws new maps, and they are still allowed to alter the Legislature's maps if the panel determines there's a reasonable probability of violations.
In comments on Friday, the San Antonio three-judge panel signaled that it would be helpful to them if the Attorney General (who represents the State and its maps) and the Democratic plaintiffs groups would get together and discuss if there is agreement on which districts there are areas of disputes over possible violations. By narrowing the number of contentious districts to a manageable number, it increases the likelihood that the San Antonio three-judge panel will be able to draw maps in time for an April primary. The agreement talks on this issue are going on exclusively between the plaintiff's groups and the Attorney General and his team. The Republican Party of Texas has not been involved, nor invited, into these discussions as previously noted. The Party is told from time to time that the discussions are going on, and that they are significant, but it is not told the substance of the discussions. It is not unusual for parties to discussions to ask all the participants to keep talks confidential.
We are awaiting word from the Attorney General, in conjunction with the plaintiff's groups, as to whether they can agree on which districts are in dispute, and which ones are not. Even after they report back to the San Antonio three-judge panel as to what they can and cannot agree on, the Court has made clear that any agreement between these two parties is not a true "settlement". The three judges have been clear that the Court will be the only entity that decides upon the final lines for the new districts. The Court has also made clear that if the districts in dispute can be narrowed down, and if there is some agreement as to what is not in dispute by February 6, that there is still a good chance that Texas can have an April 3rd primary as long as the San Antonio three-judge panel can draw lines by February 6.
We will know if we can have an April 3rd primary by the end of the day on February 6th at the very latest.
As to a discussion on the state parties' conventions - even if maps are not entered by February 6th, the Democratic Party and Republican Party entered into talks at the hearing on Friday, and subsequently advised the Court that they could still accomplish their state conventions (which both parties have scheduled during the first week of June) if the primary is held by April 17th. Since the Court previously indicated that an April 3rd primary could be held if maps were ready by February 6th, logic would dictate that if maps are obtained by February 20th, that we could still have a primary on April 17th. It is important to note, that the talks between the Democratic and Republican parties deal solely with the deadlines and scheduling of the primary election, not with the boundaries of state legislative or Congressional districts. Only the Attorney General's office's attorneys are involved in those discussions. Thus, the email chains that have gone out accusing the Republican Party of Texas of trying to save a convention deposit in exchange for district lines, are blatantly false.
As noted earlier, we are not even involved in the discussion of district lines. Furthermore, as was just previously explained, we do not need maps by February 6th to hold our state conventions on their current scheduled dates. We can get maps as late as February 20th and still accomplish these deadlines. It is the hope of the Republican Party of Texas that even if agreements are not worked out between the Attorney General and the plaintiffs' groups, that the San Antonio three-judge panel would go ahead and issue maps by February 20th. It should also be noted that the Republican Party of Texas is not concerned merely with the convention deposit on the convention center and hotels, but rather we are concerned with the real possibility that there may not be a convention center or hotel rooms available for our 18,000 delegate contingent at a different date. The state convention serves our Party and our grassroots with the very real purpose of selecting the State Party's officers, adopting its platform, and picking delegates to the national convention who will select our Party's Presidential nominee. It is an important part of the overall political process.
It is the RPT's position that a single unified primary still can be obtained sometime in early to mid April which would allow the state conventions to occur on time. It is also our position that such a schedule is not totally dependent upon any agreements between the Attorney General and the plaintiff's groups, but rather, is within the authority of the San Antonio three-judge panel to draw lines and act quickly to expeditiously move these elections forward.
The State Party's best guess on what will occur is that the legislative maps will be modified from the original legislatively-drawn lines by the San Antonio three-judge panel, but the modifications will not be as extensive as they were before the Supreme Court ruling. We expect the three-judge panel to issue new interim maps sometime in February. Whenever the maps are final, if they do not accomplish all the Republican Party of Texas' goals of a fair map which meets the law representative of a strong Republican majority, then the State Party plans to move forward on its previously announced plan of action. That plan of action calls for all of our candidates to the Texas House and State Senate to pledge to support redistricting in 2013. This plan was authorized by the last meeting of the State Republican Executive Committee (SREC). In addition, the SREC has voted to place a ballot proposition on our 2012 primary ballot as a referendum on calling on the State Legislature to take up redistricting again in 2013. In the event that the maps are not representative of a strong Republican majority - we will ask all Republican primary voters to support this ballot proposition to encourage our State Legislature to draw new final maps in 2013.
For our part, we will endeavor to keep you fully advised on all developments as soon as practical. If you have any questions regarding this process, or if you receive any information through email chain which causes concern - please contact us with any questions at RPT headquarters. This will greatly help us all to avoid erroneous information from these questionable sources. Thank you for your help and for your support during these unusual times.