Texas’ long-awaited primary date could still be in jeopardy due to controversy over the former district of U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin.
The San Antonio federal court issued an order March 1 setting the primary elections for May 29 and the runoff election date for July 31 with a reopening of candidate filing March 2–9.
The order was issued two days after the San Antonio court released interim congressional and state House maps, and approved the state Senate map agreed upon Feb. 15 by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth. Failure to reach agreements on all redistricting maps by mid-February pushed back the April primary to May 29.
The interim maps resemble the Feb. 6 compromise plan between Abbott and the Texas Latino Redistricting Task Force, though the compromise had been quickly rejected by the San Antonio court, as it lacked support from several minority advocacy groups.
As in Abbott’s plan, the court-ordered congressional map would make half of Texas’ four new congressional seats Hispanic-controlled, including the newly created District 35, the former district of Doggett spanning from Austin to San Antonio.
Furthermore, the map resembles the original one drawn by the Republican-led Legislature that divided Travis County into five districts, cutting at Doggett’s support base by reconfiguring his current district, District 25, and creating District 35 out of his former one. After the release of the San Antonio maps, Doggett stated he would run in District 35.
But most minority groups maintain District 25 is a coalition district and therefore protected under the Voting Rights Act. Margaret Moran, League of United Latin American Citizens national president, issued a statement March 1 expressing concern over the maps, including the changes in Travis County.
“Obviously the interim maps need more work. We hope that the D.C. court will deny Texas preclearance,” Moran said. “LULAC will continue to fight for a redistricting map that fully reflects the growth of the Texas Latino population.”
A U.S. federal court in Washington, D.C.—charged with approving the maps—requested more information by March 13 from TLRTF, which has claimed that “Anglo voters dominate the Democratic primary” in District 25 and therefore does not require protection.
According to Steve Bickerstaff, adjunct law professor at The University of Texas School of Law, the primary would be delayed if the D.C. court agrees District 25 needs protection, but the procedure does not allow enough time to make changes by March 31, the deadline to have maps in place to uphold the May 29 date.
However, Bickerstaff said there are several scenarios that would avoid delay. He said the D.C. court could rule no changes are needed, or if it opts for changes, the U.S. Supreme Court could become involved.
“If the D.C. court concludes that CD 25 is protected, I think the state would seek a stay from the Supreme Court to leave the plan in place,” Bickerstaff said.
A third possibility, which he believes may be most likely in the event the D.C. court has objections, would be the San Antonio court deciding the district dispute is too disruptive to the 2012 elections.
“The San Antonio court might plead it will make the changes in some time frame, but not necessarily for this election,” he explained.
Lawsuits have halted the enactment of the state Legislature’s maps—which were not precleared by the federal government—originally delaying the primaries from March 6 to April 3. The U.S. Supreme Court rejected maps in January drawn by the San Antonio court, instructing them to redraw the maps to more closely resemble the state’s plan.