A week from Monday, lawyers, reporters and other interested parties will herd into a now-familiar federal courthouse in San Antonio as the next phase of the legal fight begins over the electoral maps drawn by the Legislature after the 2010 census.
Three years after the first maps were drawn, the plaintiffs, who allege that lawmakers violated the Voting Rights Act with their work product, have reached the stage where they can ask the judge for remedies.
In this case, that means asking some House districts to be redrawn and that some new districts be created to give minority voters a chance to elect a candidate of their choosing.
And in a development only made possible by last year’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that knocked down a key legal underpinning of the pre-clearance provision of the Voting Rights Act, the plaintiffs are looking to establish facts that will allow them to ask a judge later that Texas — or parts of the state — should still have to ask for permission to make electoral changes.
That judicial maneuver is known as “bail-in” and has been talked about a lot in civil rights circles as a way to get around the court’s ruling that the formulas that had been used to put states into pre-clearance were unconstitutional.
“The elephant in the room is bail-in,” said Nina Perales of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “It’s not just whether the maps are discriminatory. We have this new question looming: Does Texas need to be bailed in?”
“If the court rules in our favor, I would expect further action on a bail-in request,” said Jose Garza of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus.
This month’s court action is scheduled to last six days and will address just the Texas House map drawn in 2011. At this point, the plan is to address the 2011 congressional map and the 2013 House and congressional maps in future court dates.
The fact that the parties are still discussing a 2011 map can be reckoned a win of sorts for the plaintiffs. The state has argued that any action on the 2011 plans had become moot after new maps were enacted last year.
The San Antonio court, though, sided with the plaintiffs that much of the 2011 map was carried over into last year’s map. As such, enacting new maps did not moot out the old plans, Garza said.
Perales added that a final conclusion is needed on the 2011 maps to help set a standard for future Legislatures to follow when redistricting in the future.
Any such ruling, though, is subject to appeal. That means it’s likely the fight over the 2011 maps will continue for the foreseeable future.