Last November, various lawsuits were filed against the State of Texas over how the legislature redrew House and Senate districts — two of which were consolidated into one case.
State Sens. Roland Gutierrez (D-San Antonio) and Sarah Eckhardt (D-Austin) filed a suit asserting that redistricting must occur in the first regular session after the decennial U.S. Census’s completion, per statute stating as much. Practically, because of the 2020 Census’s delay, this would mean the Texas legislature must pass a redistricting plan in 2023.
“[T]he Legislature [has never] been faced with such a lengthy delay in the release of the decennial census,” the court ruled, “and it is undisputed that the 2020 census data rendered the then-existing district maps unconstitutional.”
“That the Legislature took unprecedented action to address an unprecedented situation says nothing about whether it exceeded its authority in doing so.”
Previously in its response, the state acknowledged that the legislature would have to approve reapportionment in the 2023 regular session but added that nothing precluded them from redrawing the lines before then, too.
But according to the court, it appears the legislature may not even have to do that when it reconvenes next year. Both Gutierrez’s and Eckhardt’s claims of legal standing — a procedural hurdle plaintiffs must clear in which they prove harm was done unto them by the law — received support from the court.
The senators both claimed that since redistricting requires them to seek re-election before the end of their four-year terms, both of which started in 2021, appropriate standing existed. But since the court found the case “facially invalid and barred by sovereign immunity,” it was dismissed.
The other two facets of the case concerned legal standing over allegations that the state violated the “county line rule” — a requirement that prohibits a county from being broken into multiple state House districts unless all other options have been exhausted.
The Texas Constitution states that “whenever a single county has sufficient population to be entitled to a Representative, such county shall be formed into a separate Representative District.”
Two separate plaintiffs — the Texas House Mexican American Legislative Caucus (MALC) and Ruben Cortez, Jr., a Democratic candidate in the House District 37 primary who lost — argued that the state broke that rule when drawing only one district entirely within Cameron County, with portions of two others inside.
The court dismissed MALC’s associational standing claim, adding that the trial court erred in approving their status as plaintiffs. But it did grant Cortez’s standing as a Cameron County resident to challenge the county line rule’s application in the redrawn maps, stipulating that he did not sue the correct defendant, and remanded the case back to the trial court for that error to be remedied.
Anytime redistricting occurs, an abundance of lawsuits follows as those out of political power try to force the majority’s hand through the courts. And due to the census delay, these challenges continue to linger.
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Brad Johnson is an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.