Democrats challenge redistricting in Texas Supreme Court
Lawyers representing a group of Democratic state lawmakers faced off against the state attorney general’s office on Wednesday in the latest partisan battle over redrawn political maps passed by the Texas Legislature in 2021.
The arguments in the Texas Supreme Court were part of a case filed against Governor Greg Abbott by the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, or MALC, which alleges that Republicans in Texas violated the Texas Constitution when they redrew the borders policies after the 2020 US Census.
Attorneys for MALC and what are collectively known as Gutierrez’s plaintiffs — state senses Roland Gutierrez and Sarah Eckhardt, House District 37 nominee Ruben Cortez and Tejano Democrats — alleged before a state court that the Texas Legislature violated what is known as the “county line rule” when political maps were redrawn in 2021. This rule requires that sufficiently populated counties be kept whole during the process.
They argue that the Legislature violated this rule when it passed House Bill 1, the lower house redistricting bill, because it split the Cameron County line twice when the maps have been redesigned. He did this by including districts that went in two different directions in two counties to create part of separate House districts, according to a court filing.
Wednesday’s arguments focused on whether the courts are an appropriate venue for debate, something the state argued against. In December, a three-judge panel rejected a request from the attorney general’s office to dismiss the case based on this argument.
“This court has repeatedly recognized that redistricting is a unique legislative task,” said Lanora Pettit, an attorney in the office of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. Pettit said an earlier court ruling said he could only intervene in “urgent circumstances”, but the current lawsuit was ineligible.
“It’s not such a circumstance,” she said. “Plaintiffs who do not have standing seek an order which depends on the [Texas] Constitution.”
Judge Jeff Boyd said the overall argument seemed “hard to swallow.”
“Challenging new maps on these grounds raises a very important constitutional issue and I hear the state arguing ‘Yeah. Well, sorry. There is no one who can lift this,” he said.
Later, attorney Wallace Jefferson, former Chief Justice of the Republican state Supreme Court, said that if the plaintiffs did not have standing to sue the state on the redistricting issue, it would essentially mean no one could not challenge perceived violations of the Texas Constitution.
“If these voters and candidates lack standing, no one can ever sue to enforce the mandatory provisions of the Texas Constitution,” he said.
The lawsuit in state court adds to a challenge MALC filed in federal court last year. This EL Paso case is ongoing and alleges that the redrawn maps violate the U.S. Constitution “on the basis that they unacceptably dilute the voting power of Latinos and Spanish speakers,” among other allegations, according to the lawsuit.
In a statement on Wednesday, the MALC reiterated its claim that the Legislative Assembly had “manipulated the electoral maps”.
“Specifically, the statehouse map reduces the number of majority Latino seats from 33 to 30 and decreases the total number of majority minority districts from 40 to 34,” the statement said. “Furthermore, the two newly drawn congressional districts were both drawn with Anglo-Saxon majorities – ignoring significant demographic shifts across the state.”
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