Federal Judges Still Want April Primary
Worst Valentine's Day ever for redistricting attorneys
By Richard Whittaker,
11:47AM, Mon. Feb. 13, 2012
In a sign that the San Antonio panel may be growing impatient, the judges in the redistricting court case sent an order to all parties on Friday: Work all weekend on an agreement and be in court Feb. 14 for up to two days of hearings, because we really want to save the April primary date.
With the deadline for parties to file briefs passing on Friday, the court already has plenty to mull over. As always, Michael Li's Texas Redistricting blog has them all online. Unsurprisingly, Attorney General Greg Abbott is still arguing that the plaintiffs will fail in their claims of violations of Section Two of the Voting Rights Act or Article 14 of the Constitution, and that they have failed to prove that the map will not get preclearance from DC District Court.
Aside from the plaintiffs still citing VRA and Constitutional violations, he also faces an unusual coalition claiming he is wrong on the preclearance claims: A coalition that includes (amongst others) the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, the US Department of Justice and Republican Congressman Joe Barton. No, this isn't a sudden burst of fairness on Barton's behalf: During the legislative redistricting process, he was rumored to be pushing hard for three of Texas' four new Congressional seats to be Republican safe havens. Yet now finds his Arlington-centric district look more competitive for Democrats. Barton's attorneys wrote, "The certainty and finality that the preclearance proceeding will have on this litigation justifies patience."
Barton's attorneys make a key point: That, whatever the court says, legal requirements for printing and posting ballots (especially the Federally-mandated 45 day lead time for overseas military ballots) mean that maintaining the April 3 primary date is "practically impossible." Since a ruling from the DC court is "imminent," he argued, there is no rush for maps for an expired deadline. While he may be right about the impossibility of voting on April 3, Barton may be overstating the imminence of the DC hearing: On Feb. 1, the DC court told the San Antonio panel that it would be 30 days before they had a ruling. So, they added, if they want to keep the April 3 date, it will be without their opinion.
Of course, the San Antonio court had already warned the parties that, if they couldn't reach an agreement by Feb. 6, then the April 3 primary was a dead dog. It is unclear why they believe that it is still in play, more than a week after their last drop-dead deadline. However, there's been some suggestion, especially from Republican Party of Texas chairman Steve Munisteri, that a new date of April 17 could work, giving time for ballots to be shipped while still leaving enough lead time before the party conventions. If that's true, then Feb. 20 could be the new Feb. 6.
Here's the full text of the order, written by Judge Orlando Garcia:
As the parties know, the Court will hold a hearing on this matter on Tuesday, February 14, 2012, and quite possibly Wednesday, February 15, 2012. Contrary to any misconceptions, neither the State's recent compromise proposal nor any of the parties' proposals have been rejected at this juncture. It is the Court's desire to have redistricting plans in place for an April primary and all parties must continue their negotiations to assist the Court in accomplishing that task. If the parties have ceased negotiations, they should resume with all due effort between now and the time of the hearing. In their negotiations, the parties should be reminded of the dictates of the Supreme Court by which this Court will be bound, which include the rather flexible standards of review that may be applied on one hand and the restrictive language regarding the creation of new coalition districts on the other hand. Should the parties fail to reach an agreement prior to the hearing, the parties will be expected to resume negotiations at the courthouse upon conclusion of the hearing. The panel will accommodate the parties in what ever way necessary, and all necessary parties are expected to have a person with binding settlement authority either in attendance or available by telephone.