A three-judge federal district court panel in San Antonio ruled Friday that the 2016 Texas elections will move forward without changes to voting districts for Congress and the Texas House, despite a long-running legal battle over the fairness and constitutionality of the election maps.
Fair enough. Candidates are set to begin filing for those races on Saturday, so it’s late in the game already. As the court said in its Friday order, “shifting district and precinct lines would leave candidates in limbo, voters confused, and election officials with the burden of implementing new maps in a timely manner with very limited resources.”
So it’s best to let the elections move forward.
But as the court also said, the current election maps for Congress and the Texas House “are being used on an interim basis only.”
These same judges have been working on this legal case for more than four years. Elections in 2012 and 2014 also went forward on interim plans.
It’s a complicated case, and nobody envies the judges who have to figure it out.
Still, it’s time to move it to a conclusion. The “interim” has to come to an end.
Several groups of plaintiffs make different claims about how the Legislature discriminated against certain voters when it redrew election maps in 2011. The court drew new maps, which lawmakers adopted in 2013 with slight changes in a few House districts.
A federal court in Washington, D.C., found “discriminatory intent” in the way the 2011 maps were drawn. The Supreme Court twice has ruled either directly on the Texas case or affecting it in a major way.
In September 2013, the San Antonio judges gave the plaintiffs permission to start over with their pleadings because of the shifting legal ground. But the judges couldn’t just drop the claims that the 2011 maps were unconstitutional.
They even held a new trial on the constitutionality claims in July and Auguste 2014. And that’s where they’re stuck.
They say they’ve been “working diligently” and have made “substantial progress,” but they have not reached a final decision.
Only later will they take up challenges to the revised maps adopted in 2013. That includes a claim that the map for House District 90 in Fort Worth, a seat now held by Democrat Ramon Romero Jr., diluted Hispanic voting strength.
Important issues of voting rights are at stake, including questions about whether legislators abused their power. Those issues can’t be decided quickly, and the election process should continue.
But the San Antonio judges must soon finish what they started.