The Riddle of the SCOTUS

Analyzing the options for the primary maps and time table

The Riddle of the SCOTUS

Trying to read the collective mind of the Supreme Court of the United States is like messing with the sphinx's riddles. However, it's impossible not to try to interpret their questioning, and Monday's redistricting hearing at least laid out the options they may be considering.

It all boils down to two issues: One, which maps will they pick; And two, how does the picking process slow down the primaries? The Texas Democratic Party and the Republican Party of Texas remain divided on which maps to use (those approved by the legislature, or the interim maps drawn by a three-judge federal panel in San Antonio) but at least they had agreed to reschedule the primaries for April 3. However, SCOTUS seemed uninterested in whatever date deal had been struck, and posited that they may have to wait for the preclearance trial on the legislature's maps (scheduled to start on Jan. 17) is completed before they can make their own ruling.

Confused yet? If you're a candidate, you should be. This means a swathe of options for primary maps and primary dates. And never rule out the option that SCOTUS leaves everything in place, and the questions asked were just high-level legal ruminations.

The Maps

The legislature's maps: Probably what the GOP leadership would like most. This way, they don't have to move their convention and they get their gerrymandered maps. However, this depends on both SCOTUS rendering a quick decision and the DC panel granting these maps preclearance. Quick SCOTUS ruling? Maybe. Preclearance? Highly unlikely.

The federal panel's maps: The Democrats' favored result. This gives them the maps that give better minority representation, but again depends on quick rulings from SCOTUS and the DC panel.

Modified legislative maps: If SCOTUS, the DC panel and the San Antonio judges want to load up their calendar, there's another option – draw new maps. To draw their maps, the San Antonio panel took the post-2001 maps (the ones with 32 congressional seats) and modified them to create new maps that represented the fact that Texas now has 36 congressional seats. One option discussed at SCOTUS was to instead use the 36-seat map drawn by lawmakers and modify that to comply with the Voting Rights Act.

The Primary Calendar

April 3: The current primary date, and the one that all candidates are banking on (quite literally: Any delay could seriously affect fundraising.)

Short delay on the primary: RPT chair Steve Munisteri raised this possibility in an email sent out Tuesday to his members. If the rulings all come quickly, then the primaries could be pushed back a week with no real impact on the conventions or filings.

Long delay on the primary: The worst case scenario for candidates. SCOTUS sits on the ruling until as late as the end of March, making fundraising and campaigning a nightmare. It would also slash the general election campaigning season in half, and that will be very unpopular with challengers: After all, part of the logic for a long primary season in Texas is that some districts are so large and cover so many counties that mounting an effective campaign requires a huge amount of legwork and travel time, just to build some name recognition.

Split primary: Another Munisteri suggestion: Have House, Senate and Congressional whenever the legal games are played out (probably late May), while coming back to a March 6 primary for everything else. That would be expensive, would mess with the convention season, but would move the presidential primary back to its original date (thus giving Rick Perry a shot at a Super Tuesday win and giving Texas a shred of political credibility in the GOP nomination hunt.)

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SCOTUS, Election 2012, 2012 Primaries, Supreme Court of the United States, Republican Party of Texas, Texas Democratic Party, Redistricting, Gerrymandering

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