As Texas heads into a judicial maze in the coming weeks, legal experts anticipate the state legislature will fall short in its alleged attempt to circumvent parts of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
“I think the state has a very tough burden to argue that its plan should be used, even though it’s not been precleared,” said Jose Garza, lead counsel to Mexican American Legislative Caucus, who presented the plaintiffs’ arguments before the United States Supreme Court.
He explained during a teleconference today with reporters that the timing when Texas should move forward on primary elections is less of an issue than whether the state overstepped its bounds on redistricting.
Garza argued that Supreme Court justices have yet to hear all the evidence about the adverse impact of the state’s plan on the minority community, while adding that four of the justices seemed to agree that the court had gone too far in accepting the state’s maps or the position that it didn’t require “preclearance.”
According to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, certain states with a history of racial discrimination— including Texas — get federal “preclearance,” or approval, before implementing any laws that affect voting. Critics argue the Texas legislature was hoping to side step this rule.
The state legislature of Texas, which is controlled by Republicans, garnered four congressional seats due to the state’s population of four million, which was largely boosted by two-thirds of Hispanics. At least three of the four new congressional districts were drawn in a way that seemed likely to favor Anglo Republican candidates — even though Latinos and African-Americans accounted for most of the state’s population growth, ProPublica reports.
The federal district court in San Antonio drew an alternate set of maps for the state to use. The maps were more favorably drawn for minority voters, which is coincidentally appeasing to Democrats.
If Supreme Court justices invalidate the preclearance rule, it would grant the state of Texas leeway by taking the burden off the legislature to prove that their plans are not discriminatory.
Pamela S. Karlan, MALC counsel and co-director of the Supreme Court litigation clinic at Stanford Law School, emphasized that whether preclearance is overruled, the burden stills falls on Texas.
“The preclearance process is not the end of the question of what Texas should be,” said Karlan during the teleconference call.
“It’s absolutely clear that the Texas plan is a non-starter, but even with respect to parts of the Texas plan that might get preclearance, there’s still the question of whether parts of the plan violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act or violate the constitution in some other way.”
MALC has been at the forefront of litigation over Texas’ redistricting plans and represents a bipartisan group of 39 members of the Texas House of Representatives. The U.S. Supreme Court is currently deliberating the case with nine plaintiffs who filed suit including MALC.
Whether San Antonio district court’s redrawn maps are legitimate is still under dispute.
In a recent report by the L.A. Times, the court’s leading conservatives said they were skeptical of allowing judges in San Antonio to put into effect their own statewide map that creates districts geared to electing Latinos.
On Tuesday, the state of Texas will undergo a trial hearing in the District court of Columbia to hear arguments over fair redistricting, with closing arguments on February 3.
The trial will serve as a guide for the U.S. Supreme Court justices to make their decision.
“Regardless of what the Supreme Court directs the Texas court to do those will remain the standards and it will remain the obligation of the state of Texas to prove that these plans do not discriminate and quite frankly I don’t see how the state can quite possibly manage to do that,” Garza said.