District ruling may reshape Travis politics
Lawyers to seek 2 or 3 districts instead of county’s current 5.
Travis County could see major political changes after a federal court ordered two congressional districts to be redrawn, saying this month that they were formed by the Republican-controlled Legislature to intentionally discriminate against minority voters.
Although the three-judge panel ordered proposed maps to minimize the impact on adjacent districts, a lawyer involved in the case said the court’s findings will require wholesale changes in Travis County — a Democratic stronghold that was split into five congressional districts, four represented by Republicans.
“We will be offering plans to reduce the number of splits in Travis County to three or fewer districts,” said Jose Garza, a law- yer for the Mexican American Legislative Caucus.
Such a change would increase minority voting strength, placing some GOP incumbents at risk while giving Democrats an expected boost in representation, Garza said Friday.
“There will be modifications that may in fact change the partisan balance in Travis County, just as a natural result of adding over 100,000 minority voters who tend to vote Democratic,” he said.
The new maps will be presented to the San Antonio court and discussed at a Sept. 5 hearing, Garza said.
However, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Friday asked
the U.S. Supreme Court to cancel that hearing, argu- ing that the ruling from the three-judge panel shouldn’t take effect while state offi- cials appeal their order for new districts.
“The maps are lawfuland constitutional, and a stay is vital to avoiding unnecessary election confusion while the Supreme Court reviews this case,” Paxton said in a written statement. “We are confident that the Supreme Court will allow Texas to continue to use the maps used in the last three election cycles.”
Paxton also told the high court that he plans to cease to halt enforcement of another ruling by the same threejudge panel, which Thursday ordered nine Texas House districts to be redrawn, saying they, too, were created with the intent to discrimi- nate against Latino and African-American voters.
Texas election officials are operating on a tight timeline, Paxton told the court, with final maps needed by Oct. 1 to be ready for candidate election filings that begin in mid-November.
“The far better course would be for this court to intervene now,” Paxton wrote. “This will avoid the uncertainty and confusion engendered by drawing new remedial maps on the eve of the Oct. 1 deadline.”
The order by the three- judge panel came after a March 10 ruling that found fault with two area districts:
District 35, held by U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, which was gerrymandered along racial lines to destroy a different district with significant Latino and African-American populations that consistently voted for Democrats.
The judges also said the A federal court ruled March 10 that District 35, held by U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, was drawn in violation of the Voting Rights Act. boundaries were improperly set using race as a tool for partisan goals — an attempt by Republicans to unseat Doggett by boosting his district’s Hispanic population and extending the new district to San Antonio, making it more likely that vot- The three-judge panel that ordered two Texas congressional districts and nine Texas House districts to be redrawn includes:
U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia, a former Democratic member of the Texas House who was appointed by President Bill Clinton.
U.S. District Judge Xavier Rodriguez, a former Republican member of the Texas Supreme Court who was nominated by President George W. Bush.
Justice Jerry Smith of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, who was nominated by President Ronald Reagan. ers would choose a Latino candidate.
District 27, held by U.S. Rep. BlakeFarenthold, R-Corpus Christi, which includes southern Bastrop County and stretches south to the Coastal Bend along the Gulf of Mexico. The court ruled that the district, which previously extended south to Brownsville and was heav- ily Hispanic, was improperly drawn toreduce the strength of Latino voters.
Garza said he and other plaintiffs lawyers read the court’s ruling as requiring Doggett’s district to be centered more on San Antonio, meaning about200,000 Travis County voters — living in areas that tend to vote Democratic, including about 100,000 minority voters — will move into new districts.
Likewise, the court said Nueces Co u n t y, which includes Corpus Christi and has a substantial population of Latino voters, was placed into Farenthold’s Anglo-majority district to reduce the Latino voting strength.
The ripple effect of relocating 350,000 people in Nueces County and 200,000 in Travis County will be extensive, Garza said.
“Those things can’t be done with a sliver,” he said. “So we’re going to try to do thebest we can to minimize the overall change, but those are fairly significant population moves.”
If the Sept. 5 hearing is allowed to continue, Texas officials will have anopportunity to present their maps as well as challenge those presented by plaintiffs.
Doggett’s district was ruled to have been gerrymandered along racial lines.