Austin Isn't Getting New Congressional Districts Just Yet

Mar 17, 2017

Exactly one week ago, a federal court struck down congressional maps drawn by Texas lawmakers in 2011.

The court sided with plaintiffs in the case who said lawmakers racially gerrymandered the districts. Among the court's concerns was an Austin district.

But that doesn’t mean the state is getting to work on redrawing those districts just yet.

After a lengthy wait for this initial ruling, lawyers say they are going to have to wait some more.

“There’s no set timeline that courts have to decide a case, and in this case, they decided that they needed more than two years to make a decision,” says Ernest Herrera with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

Attorneys representing the plaintiffs – including Herrera – say following last week’s ruling, things are moving in their favor, though. Michael Li with the Brennan Center for Justice, another attorney for the plaintiffs, says it’s likely that the state’s congressional lines will be changed.

“This is a really big ruling that eventually will set the stage for Texas’ congressional map to be redrawn,” he says.

But Li says we aren’t at the point yet where the state will have to change the map.

“And that’s in part because this is a really complicated case that involved two sets of maps,” he says, “one drawn by the Legislature in 2011 and then another set of maps that the Legislature adopted in 2013.”

Those 2013 maps are what’s in place right now. On top of that, the court hasn’t ruled on the Texas House districts, either.

All of those rulings have to come down before the state will be forced to make changes – or before the state can even appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton basically said as much when the court ruled last week. In fact, he called the ruling “moot.”

Herrera says the case is not moot, because “Texas at any time could decide to go back on what it fixed in 2013.”

He says plaintiffs agree the 2013 maps are a little better than what lawmakers drew up in 2011, but it’s clear there still must be a significant redraw. “Considering the fact that the 2013 plans were based in large part on what was done in 2011,” Herrera says.

Specifically, Li points to Democratic U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett’s seat. That district snakes down from East and South Austin all the way to San Antonio. Li says that district is in both maps – including the current one – and will likely have to be undone.

“The court ruled it needs to be dismantled because it was a racial gerrymander and couldn’t be justified by the Voting Rights Act,” he says.

But again, we aren’t there yet.

The court still has to schedule a remedy hearing to decide who will draw the new maps or whether the state will have to get federal preclearance on voting issues from here on out.

And Li says it’s almost certain the Supreme Court will pick up this case if it’s appealed.

Then, of course, there’s the issue of trying to get this all figured out before congressional elections in 2018.