(The redistricting expert provides some in-depth analysis on issues surrounding CD-25 and whether a coalition of Anglo and Minority voters can be protected. - promoted by Katherine Haenschen)
No bigger issue looms on the congressional map than the treatment of CD-25 - Travis Co. anchored district currently represented by Congressman Lloyd Doggett.
Although the San Antonio court chose not to protect the district in its interim map (Plan C235), many of the redistricting plaintiffs continue to voice hope that the D.C. court in the preclearance case will reach a different conclusion.
But that position has left them at sharp odds with some Latino groups who contend that the court properly removed heavily Hispanic portions of East Austin and put them in a new Hispanic majority district (CD-35) anchored in San Antonio.
In recent weeks, those disputes escalated in court filings and the media after the Texas Latino Redistricting Task Force settled with the state and began expressing hopes that the compromise map - which dismantles CD-25 in favor of the new CD-35 - might serve as the basis for a permanent map.
Tuesday was the deadline for parties in the preclearance case in Washington to submit additional briefs on the question of whether Anglos dominate the Democratic primary in the district, as contended by the Texas Latino Redistricting Task Force.
So what's the dispute about?
In short, it's about whether a district that is 61% Anglo can be protected under the Voting Rights Act.
Let's start with the parties' disputes about what the law is.
The Latino Task Force has taken the position that a district cannot be protected under the VRA unless a minority group has the ability to elect its candidate of choice in both the primary and the general election. The Task Force also rejects the notion that minority groups can be combined to form a majority unless those minority groups vote the same way in both the primary and the general election.
That's a more restrictive view than taken by other minority groups who contend that the literal language of the Voting Rights Act speaks of minority groups' ability to elect their candidates of choice in either the primary or general election. They also contend that the Supreme Court in Bartlett v. Strickland expressly recognized and gave protection to ability of minority groups to form coalitions either with each other or with so-called crossover Anglos.
In counter, however, the Task Force argues that to adopt that interpretation "turns the Voting Rights Act on its head" and would allow any currently existing majority-minority district to be "dismantled, its Black and Latino voters scattered into districts where they constitute less than 30% of the voters ... as long as a Democratic candidate wins the General Election."
The State of Texas, likewise, argues that protecting CD-25 essentially means protecting political alliances and that if CD-25 is protected than so is every Democratic seat in the country.
Last but not least, it should be noted that the Justice Department has said that it does not regard CD-25 as an ability-to-elect district, though it has said that ultimately is a matter for the D.C. court.
Where does the court stand?
In its summary judgment ruling, the D.C. court sided conceptually with broader view urged by the Travis County intervenors, explaining:
"In counting ability districts, Texas ignored those in which coalitions of minority voters and coalitions of minority and White voters formed to support the minority-preferred candidate. But Section 5 requires such consideration in determining whether minorities have the ability to elect preferred candidates. The statute states no preference for how the minority group is able to elect its preferred candidate, whether by cohesive voting by a single minority group or by coalitions made up of different groups. Indeed, the Supreme Court has recognized the value of voting coalitions formed by minority voters."
However, the court subsequently asked for briefing on whether it is necessary to look at both the primary and general election results.
Then last week, the court asked for briefing about the alleged Anglo domination of the Democratic primary in CD-25.
All that suggests that the court taking a close look at the CD-25 on the facts to see whether CD-25 performs as an ability-to-elect district.
So what's the evidence?
It probably isn't surprising, but that's also in dispute. Or more precisely, it depends on what races you look at and how you define some key concepts. It gets a bit complex.
The Travis County intervenors argue that the claim that Anglo voters control the Democratic primary is simply false because the Latino Task Force's assertion "ignores that more than half the voters comprising the White CVAP in CD-25 are Republicans who do not participate in the Democratic primary." Once Republicans are factored out, they calculate that Anglos represent only about 47% of the Democratic primary universe - meaning that no one group by itself has the ability to control the result of the primary and that any group has the ability to hustle and "haul, pull, and trade" for advantage.
As for electoral support for the claim that CD-25 is an ability-to-elect district, the Travis County intervenors say it is necessary to look at all primaries and that minority-preferred candidates prevail in the Democratic primary 75% of the time both in the district and in Travis County (where 60% of the district's population lives).
Most importantly, they point to the results of the 2004 Democratic primary for CD-25 between Lloyd Doggett and a Latina opponent, Leticia Hinojosa, in which Doggett was the overwhelming choice of both African-Americans and Latinos in the district.
The Latino Task Force says hogwash and says that you have to start with evidence from the state's expert witness, John Alford, which suggests that more than 70% of the actual Democratic primary turnout in CD-25 (as opposed to potential turnout) is Anglo.
The Task Force goes on argue that primary races that are relevant are those in which a Latinos prefer a different candidate from Anglos.
In those races, the Task Force argues Anglos control the result of the primary except in the one case (a 2008 race for the Democratic Supreme Court nomination between Susan Criss and Linda Yañez) where the Anglo primary vote itself was split. They say that shows that the Latino vote in the Democratic primary (and the smaller African-American vote) is irrelevant to the outcome of the primary.
They, likewise, argue that the 2004 primary results are irrelevant because the district changed in 2006 as a result of litigation - although the core Travis County portions of the district remained the same.
In any event, the Task Force argues that because more than half of African-American voters in CD-25 are moved to the new CD-35 along with 68% of Latinos, the ability of those voters to elect the candidate of their choice is actually preserved and enhanced.
The Travis County intervenors' argument, the Task Force says, is just an argument "that African-American and Latinos in CD 25 are required by the Voting Rights Act to be contained in a Travis County-based congressional district, as opposed to any other congressional district in which they would have the ability to nominate and elect their preferred candidate."
The Travis County intervenors call the Task Force's position both "puzzling" and "perplexing" and the result a selective picking of races which assumes that Hispanics prefer Hispanic candidates. They say that broader election results show that no ethnic groups elect their candidate of choice every time, but that Anglos, African-Americans, and Latinos each have been able to elect their candidates of choice roughly 3 out of 4 times by forming successful coalitions. That they say was exactly what the Voting Rights Act was intended to do.
In short, the argument is that the Task Force left a minority seat on the table by agreeing to a map that dismantled CD-25 when CD-35 could have been created as a Latino majority district without touching Travis County.
The D.C. court indicated back in early February that it would be at least 30 days before it issued a preclearance decision. That time has now come and gone and, with this final (?) round of briefing, a decision could come any time now. However, whether and to what extent the court is wrestling with the issues is unknown so exact timing is anyone's guess. Right now, the only people who have a clear sense of that are the three judges and their law clerks.