Redistricting trial goes to panel of judges
Hurd testifies as state’s final witness in case that could impact 2018 midterm elections
SAN ANTONIO — Federal judges in a redistricting trial over Texas’ alleged racial gerrymandering heard closing arguments in San Antonio on Saturday in a case that could have major implications for the 2018 midterm elections in the state.
The trial is part of an ongoing lawsuit filed in 2011 by a coalition of civil rights groups and individuals who claim the state has suppressed minority voting rights in at least three congressional districts.
U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes, testified Saturday as the state’s final witness. He represents Congressional District 23, which is one of three districts found by a federal court March 10 to be drawn along racially discriminatory lines. The others are District 27 in Corpus Christi and District 35 along the San Antonio-Austin corridor.
Hurd defended the rationality of the boundaries of District 23, one of a relatively few genuine “swing” districts in the nation.
“If more districts were like mine, we’d have better caliber people in Washington,” Hurd said. “My district is competitive, and that’s a good thing ... because it forces people to talk to a broader sense of the community.”
‘Not their top choice’
Attorney Luis Vera, representing one of the plaintiffs, the League of United Latin American Citizens, or LULAC, said Hurd’s appearance was more of a “stump speech” designed to distract the judges from the real arguments over racial discrimination at hand in the case.
“Hurd is a good man, and I don’t have any disrespect for him,” Vera said. “But for 80 percent of the Latinos in his district, he was not their top choice.”
“The only reason for him coming here today was for the judges to attach a face to that district,” Vera said.
The March 10 court ruling was handed down by the same threejudge panel that is handling the current trial.
These judges, Orlando Garcia and Xavier Rodriguez of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas and Jerry Smith of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, heard arguments on the constitutionality of the interim boundaries for the congressional and some state legislative districts but issued no decision Saturday and gave no indication when they would issue a ruling.
The plaintiffs have pressed for a sweeping set of new districts drawn before the 2018 elections. The state is fighting to retain the current maps, which were drawn on an interim basis but have been used for two election cycles.
Vera told the panel that Texas’ politicians have a long history of “cracking and stacking” Latino voters — limiting their voting power by crowding them into small numbers of districts or diluting it by breaking them into several groups spread among majority-white districts.
“This state has gone after Latinos, directly,” Vera said. “Anyone can come up here and argue what they want, but that’s what’s happened.”
Lawmakers missed chance
Mark Gaber, another attorney for the plaintiffs, argued that Texas actually had a chance to solve many of the redistricting issues when lawmakers met in 2013 facing a court order, but still failed to fix several problems.
“We’ve demonstrated potent evidence that (state legislators) drew these district lines with discriminatory intent,” Gaber said. “Even after (2013), the state continued to act in a discriminatory (way).”
Matthew Frederick, deputy solicitor general for the Texas Attorney General’s Office, countered that the plaintiffs had not met the necessary standard of proof required to prove discrimination under Section 2 of the federal Voting Rights Act.
“When the Texas Legislature acts, we have to assume they are acting constitutionally,” he said. “That’s a presumption ... and the plaintiffs have, in fact, provided little — if any — evidence to disprove that point.”
Regardless of which side the judges favor, Vera noted, the case seems destined to be immediately appealed and then taken up by the Supreme Court.
“We’ve been fighting this fight for years,” he said.