In a little more than ten days, the first of two redistricting trials will start in a courtroom in the John C. Wood federal courthouse in San Antonio. Their outcome could vastly reshape not only the Texas political landscape, but also the national landscape.
With Texas gaining four new congressional seats, it's not too much to say that control of Congress over the next decade could hinge on what happens over the next several months.
This is the first in a series of articles that will take a look at the litigation, what's at issue, and what to expect in the coming months.
But maybe the place to start is how we got here- that is to say, back in court.And to do that, it's important to stop and consider not what happened in the 82nd Legislature, but what didn't happen.
What didn't happen was anything remotely resembling an open and transparent process leading up to development of the maps.
In each case, the legislative and congressional maps were developed by Republicans behind closed doors and released only a day or two before hearings on the maps. Heck, with the congressional map, the House Redistricting Committee didn't even bother to take public testimony.
In the hurried floor debate on the congressional map, Senator Royce West (D- Dallas) called the process one of the least transparent he's been involved in.
By contrast, emails released in the redistricting case show GOP congressmen and other insiders spending weeks behind closed doors carefully working out the most trivial details of district lines.
Congressman Lamar Smith, for example, fought to have the lines of CD-21 redrawn so that his district would include the San Antonio Country Club.
Congressman Kenny Marchant, likewise, emailed the GOP delegation's counsel to make sure that the posh Hockaday School in Dallas got put in his district because “my grand babies go to Hockaday.”
The emails also show a more troubling process at play-one in which GOP map drawers carefully manipulated lines to minimize the voting strength of the state's growing Hispanic and African-American populations (groups that collectively accounted for 89% of Texas' population growth over the last decade).
In some cases, as in the DFW Metroplex, GOP map drawers divided an area's burgeoning Hispanic population into multiple districts. In other cases, as shown by the email below from the GOP congressional counsel, Eric Opiela, they worked to pack Hispanics into districts to minimize the number of competitive districts.
The level of manipulation troubled even some Republicans, causing a senior staffer for Congressman Joe Barton to worry that the maps wouldn't pass review under the Voting Rights Act.
But Lamar Smith and Pete Sessions worked to get him to shut up and the maps quickly passed into law.
On other fronts as well, the emails show a determination by GOP legislators to be aggressive- including an early decision to bypass review of the maps by the Obama Justice Department in favor of a suit in DC District Court (and a possible challenge to the constitutionality of key parts the Voting Rights Act).
Now 15 judges (three on a panel in San Antonio, three on a panel in DC, and the nine members of the US Supreme Court) will decide the future of the lines Texans will use for the next decade.
The next article in the series will look at some of the key legal claims being made in the two cases and where the greatest impact could be.
For more on day-to-day developments in the cases, check out www.txredistricting.org.