AUSTIN – The U.S. Supreme Court on Jan. 9 heard oral arguments on the merits of the state House, Senate and congressional redistricting plans enacted by the Texas Legislature last spring and the remedial plans drawn up by a panel of three San Antonio federal district court judges.
A transcript of the hearing shows the attorneys for appellants Rick Perry, governor of Texas et al. and appellees Shannon Perez et. al and Wendy Davis et al. sticking to their guns as they were peppered with questions by justices. Appelles’ allegations of discrimination against minorities under the Voting Rights Act were at the heart of the cases before the court.
Early in the proceedings, Justice Sonia Sotomayor pointed out that a denial of preclearance is an injunction that stops the maps from taking effect, and beyond that, the court has no duty to produce a roadmap to show the state how it should accomplish the task of redistricting.
Along the same lines, Texas Solicitor General Paul Clement said the denial does not operate like a line-item veto in which the appellate court instructs the regional court (San Antonio) on exactly which boundaries to fix.
Concerns about the potential effects of court actions might have on the current election calendar emerged. Justice Antonin Scalia brought up the what-if-the-clock-runs-out idea. Scalia, in effect asked, suppose all deadlines pass for a legally enforceable set of maps to be used. What then?
Principal Deputy U.S. Solicitor General Sri Srinivasan responded by acknowledging Scalia’s implied suggestion that the Legislature’s enacted maps could be used, but “only if there is no time for the (San Antonio) district court to adopt a different plan.”
Justices explored both sides’ reasoning in how boundaries should be drawn and spent time on particulars related to a contested district in El Paso, but also touched on contested districts in Dallas and Houston.
Attorney Jose Garza, arguing on behalf of the appellees, was pressed by justices over the deadline for conducting presidential primaries. He answered that June 26 would be the practical deadline.
Feb. 1 is the due date for final review of the case by the high court. Meanwhile, the three-judge D.C. Court of Appeals, the trial court for redistricting litigation, is scheduled to hear opening arguments on Jan. 17 and render a ruling by Feb. 3. In its ruling, the court is expected to determine whether the Texas Legislature’s redistricting plans are in violation of the Voting Rights Act, and if so, remand the task of redrawing lines back to the San Antonio court. If no violation is found, the maps enacted by the Texas Legislature may be ruled legal and enforceable.
Sonogram law to be enforced
The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals on Jan. 13 ruled that Texas may enforce a law enacted by the Texas Legislature last spring that requires pregnant women who wish to abort to undergo a sonogram 24 hours before the procedure. The ruling reverses an Austin trial court decision that had prevented the law from taking effect.
Under the law, a physician or a certified sonographer is required to provide the sonogram and heartbeat to the pregnant woman, and the physician then provides a description of the sonogram image. The law also requires a physician to provide a geographically indexed list of agencies offering ultrasounds at no cost to the pregnant woman.
The Texas Department of State Health Services reportedly can start enforcing the law in less than a month.
Senate candidates take stage
Five candidates vying to become the Republican nominee to succeed retiring U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison participated in a debate at the Hilton Hotel in downtown Austin on Jan. 12.
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, former Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz, former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert, sports analyst Craig James and funeral home director Glenn Addison of Magnolia, fielded questions on such topics as budget cutting, tax reform, immigration policy and foreign policy.
Candidates spoke of their work experience and conservative bona fides, and generally agreed on most topics. They will meet again in debates scheduled for early February and early March.
Sales tax revenues up, up, up
Texas Comptroller Susan Combs on Jan. 11 announced state sales tax revenue in December was $1.98 billion, up 9.5 percent compared to December 2010. Her chart shows collections up 8.3 percent for cities, 15.3 percent for counties, 6.9 percent for transit systems and 25.1 percent for special purpose taxing districts. The sales tax figures represent sales that occurred in November, Combs said.