More voter ID, redistricting fights?

Posted Saturday, Jun. 29, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Pop quiz: What happens when the U.S. Supreme court tosses out a key part of the federal Voting Rights Act, obliterates long-running litigation on redistricting and voter ID in Texas and washes its hands of the matter?

Answer: More litigation, of course.

Already, U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, has joined a lawsuit filed Wednesday in Corpus Christi against the state’s voter ID plan.

Atty. Gen. Greg Abbott said voter ID requirements approved by the Legislature in 2011 will go into effect right away because the Supreme Court wiped out previous legal action that had stalled them.

In what could be an even more complicated legal entanglement, a three-judge federal panel in San Antonio has called lawyers to a conference Monday morning to decide what should happen to existing suits against a 2011 redistricting plan.

Last year, redistricting litigation caused primary elections that had been set for March to be delayed until late May, and the runoffs from that election weren’t settled until the end of July.

Wait a minute. Didn’t the Supreme Court take care of all of this?

Abbott says yes, but he’s not telling the whole story. It’s complicated.

Two legal battles against redistricting were happening at the same time last year.

One came under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which required Texas and some other states deemed to have histories of racial segregation to get “preclearance” of all election-related changes. The new Texas voter ID law was hung up in Section 5 litigation also.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court undercut Section 5 and those cases by ruling that federal government was using an outdated formula for deciding which areas should be required to get preclearance.

So that whole line of legal arguments was wiped out.

But the Texas redistricting maps also were challenged before the three-judge panel in San Antonio. That fight came under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and constitutional protections against discrimination.

The Supreme Court didn’t touch Section 2, so those cases could continue.

That’s it? Of course not.

The reason the primary elections (and the November general election) were able to move forward last year was because the judges in San Antonio told the warring parties to get together and come up with one-time maps. The court got involved, some compromising happened, and elections were held.

And now at Abbott’s request, the recent special session of the Legislature has approved new maps that closely resembled last year’s compromise maps.

We’ll find out at tomorrow’s conference in San Antonio what that means. The judges have asked the lawyers to answer some key questions:

• Are the arguments over the 2011 maps moot because we now have 2013 maps?

Remember that this fight is between Democrats and Republicans, plus a lot of attorneys who live and breathe the minute details of redistricting law. It’s in their nature to fight.

What might — repeat, might — be easy is the map for Texas Senate districts, where there was real compromise last year and no fight has developed this year.

Perhaps the most noteworthy part of that is District 10 in Fort Worth, represented by Sen. Wendy Davis, which had been drastically redrawn but was pieced back together in the compromise.

• Will the attorneys be challenging the 2013 maps for congressional and Texas House districts? Democrats seemed to be laying the groundwork for that challenge during the recent special session.

• Finally, if challenges can be expected, how quickly can we get this done so no more elections are delayed?

We’d all like to know that.

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