Mon December 12, 2011
Supreme Court Sets Redistricting Hearing
UPDATE 8:45 p.m.: Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott is asking a three-judge federal panel in San Antonio to stay the deadline for candidates to file for primary elections in the state House and Senate, as well as Texas's 36 congressional seats. The deadline is Thursday, but last week's ruling by the Supreme Court that putting redistricting maps for the state's legislative and congressional districts on hold until the justices can review them rendered that essentially moot. The high court won't hear oral arguments on that case until January 9.
You can read the Attorney General's motion here:
EARLIER: An election law scholar at UT-Austin says Friday's ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court temporarily blocked interim redistricting maps for congressional and legislative districts isn't unusual, but it's not like other such stays granted in redistricting cases.
Steve Bickerstaff at the Texas Attorney General, effectively freezing the congressional and legislative elections, is par for the course. In fact, he says court involvement follows a pattern we've seen in each of the redistricting sessions since 1971. However, the court ordering a hearing, set for January 9th, is highly abnormal.
"For the Supreme Court to set a hearing on this short time frame is very uncommon. The Supreme Court will have three options: 1: to leave the state plan [maps drawn by the legislature] in effect, 2: push the primary back, 3: issue an order after the primary – but that changes things for the general election."
Bickerstaff says the Supreme Court can't change things in time for the primaries, so the granting of the stay creates an unusual time-crunch for politicians seeking office.
"We've had one circumstance in Texas in which the districts have been changed after the primary. That's very unusual. But it has happened. It is theoretically possible that the Supreme Court would subsequently adopt an order which called for certain districts to require using the [San-Antonio three-judge interim] plan or the state legislature plan and do it sometime after the primary and before the general election. Or they could push back the primary [election date], which the court has not done before."
Bickerstaff also says with the Supreme Court intervening at this point, "the state plan appears to be the one that the Supreme Court anticipates the election being conducted on in this cycle."
"That does not mean that the Court will ultimately uphold the state plan. It's just that the court has, many times in the past, allowed an election to take place on the basis on a state plan when the case was in appeal to the Supreme Court."
The granting of the stay is an win for Texas Republicans. In a statement issued Friday evening,Attorney General's Greg Abbott heaped praised upon the court, calling the granting of the stay an "important step" in "protecting the integrity of Texas' elections."
The Supreme Court has asked lawyers for briefs and counter-briefs, ahead of oral arguments in the case January 9.