Texas Trifecta: Control of Presidency, Congress and Courts May Be at Stake in Redistricting Fight

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Texas Legislative Council

The Texas State Board of Election Districts latest map enacted by the 82nd Legislature in 2011.

For Republicans concerned that a lengthy primary could hurt their chances against President Barack Obama in 2012, the biggest worry right now may not be Iowa or New Hampshire. In Texas, a fight between Democrats and Republicans over the legality of a redistricting plan is threatening to push the state’s primary from Super Tuesday, March 6, all the way back to May 29, potentially enabling nearly three extra months of expensive and damaging intra-party attacks between GOP candidates. And that’s not all that’s at stake in the fight.

Briefly, Texas is slated to get four extra Congressional seats in the wake of the 2010 census, and last spring the GOP controlled legislature drew up new voting maps to reflect the change. A court in Washington D.C. blocked those maps, saying that they violated the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which gives D.C. oversight of 16 states that formerly used voting laws to discriminate against minorities. The D.C. court ordered a San Antonio court to rewrite the maps, which it did late last month, likely handing as many as two seats to Democrats in Nov. 2012, potentially enough to determine control of the House next fall. Then, last Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court, responding to Republican complaints that the San Antonio court usurped the Texas legislature’s authority, stayed the interim maps, leaving the state unable to conduct federal elections.

How worried is the GOP? Here’s an excerpt (via the excellent FHQ blog) from the Republican filing with the Texas court on Tuesday asking for the primary to be kept on Super Tuesday:

Moving the date of the Texas presidential primary, aside from placing difficulty, nay nearly impossible burdens on the administration of the Republican Party at all levels, but especially at the most basic level where it is wholly conducted by volunteers, will cause this court to likely change the result of the national Republican nomination for President of the United States.

The Dems are (naturally) also interested in the timing of the primary. They’ve filed a counter-proposal to the court arguing that it should split the difference and schedule the primary for April 3, a date that would leave enough time for the Texas GOP to still organize its State convention in early June. The Dems seem to have good lawyers, since as FHQ points out, that’s the same date some GOP lawmakers were pushing earlier in the cycle.

But if the Dems think they’re coming out the winner, they may lose something they care deeply about in the process before its all over. Attorney General Eric Holder, who is already investigating Texas’ (and other red States) new laws requiring voters to show IDs, said Tuesday that the redistricting would create “precisely the kind of discrimination” the Voting Rights Act was intended to end. The Supreme Court granted cert [PDF] last Friday and will hear oral arguments in the redistricting case on Jan. 9. Not only could the conservative leaning court end up deciding the make-up of the House of Representatives, some observers think it could start chipping away at the Voting Rights Act itself by limiting the oversight powers the 1965 law gave the federal government. Holder’s robust defense of the Voting Rights Act on Tuesday was clearly a sign the administration is readying for the fight.