87th LegislatureElections 2022State HouseState SenateA Look Back at the Texas Redistricting Litigation Over the Past Decade

With a lawsuit already filed for the upcoming redistricting, here’s a look back at the litigation over the past decade.
September 15, 2021
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Redistricting may be one of the top priorities for the Texas legislature in the upcoming special session, but it wasn’t long before the 2020 census count when the main legal fight over redistricting in the previous decade came to a close.

It was not until September 2019 when the panel of three federal judges in one of the main redistricting cases related to state House districts, Perez v. Abbott, was dissolved.

Though lawmakers drew new state legislative districts during the 82nd Legislature in 2011 and new congressional districts in a special session that immediately followed it, those maps were never used in an election — though they did serve as the basis for the eventual maps.

Between the preclearance Texas needed to obtain from the federal government and lawsuits filed against state officials, the maps that were ultimately used throughout the past 10 years were effectively redrawn by the courts.

After then-Gov. Rick Perry signed the legislation for the new congressional districts in July 2011, then-Attorney General Greg Abbott sought a declaratory judgment in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to allow the use of the maps.

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Under the Voting Rights Act, Texas was required to obtain the federal government’s approval of the new maps before they could go into effect, though that won’t be required after this redistricting session thanks to a 2013 ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court.

While the preclearance process lingered in the D.C. court, two primary lawsuits were brought before the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas challenging the new maps: Perez v. Perry, which consolidated the state House and congressional lawsuits, and Davis v. Perry, the state Senate lawsuit.

In November 2011, the D.C. court denied Texas’ request to use the maps and required the Western District court to draw interim maps for the state to use in the 2012 elections.

That same month, the federal court in Texas drew interim maps for the state to use, but they were vastly different from what the legislature had drawn.

Abbott quickly filed requests for a stay on the use of the interim maps with the Supreme Court, and in January 2012, the justices issued a ruling favorable toward the state.

In the order vacating the court-drawn maps and remanding the case to the federal Texas court, the Supreme Court emphasized that “a district court should take guidance from the State’s recently enacted plan in drafting an interim plan” instead of making something new from scratch.

The federal court then went back and drew new maps again in February 2012, this time making changes based on the maps the legislature had created but that addressed concerns about where lawmakers had violated federal redistricting laws.

For the state Senate map, that meant only adjusting Senate District (SD) 10 in Tarrant County and surrounding districts.

The then-incumbent Democratic senator for SD 10, Wendy Davis, had alleged in the original lawsuit that the district’s change in Demographics from a minority-majority seat to an Anglo-majority seat violated the Voting Rights Act.

More changes were made in the congressional and state House maps, with the latter keeping about four-fifths intact while making changes to around 30 districts that had similar complaints regarding demographic shifts or malapportionment.

Along with drawing the interim maps, the district court also ordered a revised schedule for the primary elections to give candidates additional time to file and campaign.

The maps were accepted and then the plans were used beginning in the primary and runoff elections at the end of May and July 2012, respectively.

Later that year, the federal court in D.C. issued an opinion denying preclearance to the maps that the legislature originally drew.

During the 83rd Legislature in 2013, lawmakers did not take up the issue of redistricting. But at the urging of Abbott, Perry called another special session immediately following the regular session with only one item on the agenda: for lawmakers to make the interim maps the official ones.

A few months after bills enacting the interim maps — which had a few small changes from the court’s version — were signed into law by Perry, the federal court in Texas dismissed the Senate lawsuit but denied the request to dismiss the state House and congressional lawsuit.

While the state was permitted to continue using the interim-turned-official maps that Perry had signed for the next elections, the lawsuit continued to make its way through the court.

Ultimately, the contentions came before the Supreme Court in 2018’s Abbott v. Perry, in which the judges upheld the second congressional plan adopted by the legislature in its entirety as well as the majority of the state House plan.

One exception in the case of the latter, however, was House District (HD) 90 in Tarrant County, which the Supreme Court called “an impermissible racial gerrymander.”

That district was redrawn again with a compromise between Texas officials and the plaintiffs in the case, solidifying the final map for the decade.

Whether the litigation surrounding redistricting this decade will drag on for as long as the fight throughout the 2010s remains to be seen, but a battle in the courts has already begun.

Two Democrats in the legislature working with an attorney who is a former Republican Texas Supreme Court chief justice have already filed a lawsuit urging the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas to enjoin lawmakers from drawing new maps until 2023 and to issue interim ones in the meantime.

They argue that since the release of the census data came long after the regular session this year and since the Texas Constitution stipulates that redistricting shall be conducted during the legislature’s “first regular session after the publication of each United States decennial census,” the task cannot constitutionally be completed during a special session.

The assumption that Abbott and other lawmakers are operating under is that the requirement in the constitution does not preclude legislators from redistricting during other sessions like they did in the 2011 and 2013 special sessions.

A three-judge panel has been appointed to the lawsuit, but thus far, they have not issued any injunctions to keep lawmakers from enacting new maps.

For more information and primary sources on redistricting from the 2010s, see this detailed timeline from the Texas Legislative Council.

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Daniel Friend

Daniel Friend is a reporter for The Texan. He participated in a Great Books program at Azusa Pacific University and graduated in 2019 with a degree in Political Science. He has studied C.S. Lewis’s science fiction trilogy and in his spare time you might find him writing his own novel partly inspired by the series.