Excerpts from Quorum Report: San Antonio Court Spends Morning Arguing Over Doggett and CD25

Posted on from Quorum Report in In the News

Vera said the dismantling of CD 25 had one motivation – to get rid of Doggett. “Look at the fragmentation of Travis County,” he said, “how can anyone justify that?”

Early morning talk in court on the second day of a pivotal status conference dealing with the in process interim maps centered on whether Congressman Lloyd Doggett’s CD 25 should be considered a protected crossover district under the preclearance section of the Voting Rights Act.

Attorney Renea Hicks, who is representing Travis County plaintiffs, told the San Antonio court that their counterparts in D.C. found that minority groups would lose influence if the state is allowed to swap in Anglo voters for minority voters in CD 25. That situation turns CD 25 into a district that cannot be dismantled because of the harm that would result for minority voters, Hicks argued.

QR readers will recall that the Legislature drastically reconfigured CD 25, to a degree where Doggett felt his only chance to win re-election was to run in a new Latino-dominated district running from San Antonio to Austin. The court-ordered interim map restored CD 25 as a crossover district anchored in Travis County but the compromise plan offered by Attorney General Greg Abbott restores the CD 25 from the state enacted map.

“Freedom from obligation to create” a crossover district, Hicks said, “does not equate to freedom to ignore a current situation that allows minorities a chance to elect a candidate of choice.”
Judge Jerry Smith sharply disagreed that the D.C.’s holding, which was written in a memorandum opinion that accompanied its ruling to deny summary judgment on the state’s request to preclear its maps, binds him and his fellow panel members.

“That’s not the law of our court,” Smith said, noting that the D.C. court has yet to issue a final ruling on the state’s preclearance claims. “We start from zero.”

Hicks responded that he disagreed with Smith on the applicability of the D.C. court’s holding. But even if the San Antonio panel disregards the holding, Hicks argued that the concerns that dismantling CD 25 would racially discriminate meets the Supreme Court’s “not insubstantial” standard.

Smith asked whether Latino voters would be better off being moved to CD 35 where they would be in a position to be the sole minority group responsible for selecting their candidate of choice. The losers in the dismantling of CD 25, Smith suggested, would be Anglo voters who are not a protected minority.

That drew disagreement from Hicks, who said Latinos are already the ones who determine the winner in CD 25. More than 60 percent of Anglos voted against the winner, meaning that Latinos delivered the win for Doggett and that Anglos crossed over to help minorities select their candidate of choice.

LULAC attorney Luis Vera said the dismantling of CD 25 had one motivation – to get rid of Doggett. “Look at the fragmentation of Travis County,” he said, “how can anyone justify that?”

The Latino Redistricting Task Force sided with Abbott on his compromise map that draws Doggett out of CD 25. But the Task Force’s Nina Perales said today that her position on the creation of a Latino opportunity district didn’t preclude the possibility of retaining a CD 25 in which Doggett has a chance to run for and win re-election.

However, she said it’s pretty clear that Latinos are in a better situation to elect their candidate of choice in CD 35. The proportion of Hispanic citizens of voting age is nearly double of that in CD 25, she said. Even the proportion of black citizens of voting age is higher in CD 35.

Furthermore, she said that crossover districts like CD 25 might be protected under the retrogression standards under the preclearance section of the VRA. Preclearance review, though, also allows judges to look at possible offsets, meaning that a court might be OK in creating an opportunity district to offset CD 25, Perales said.

David Mattax, arguing for AG Abbott, said the facts argue that CD 25 is not a crossover district that merits Section 5 protection. He notes that a single minority group coupled with Anglo crossover voters doesn’t constitute a large enough bloc to influence an election. Rather, he said the plaintiffs’ position relies on the existence of a “triumvirate” ethnic coalition, a concept that Mattax said was novel and doesn’t hold together.