Texas Makes Legislative Comms Secret In Prelude To Redistricting Battles

UNITED STATES - OCTOBER 03: Shirley Connuck, right, holds up a sign representing a district in Texas, as the Supreme Court hears a case on partisan gerrymandering by state legislatures on October 3, 2017. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call Group

A new Texas law will prevent the public from seeing the communications of state legislators as the state prepares for the next wave of redistricting, the Dallas Morning News reports

The new law was passed last month and will place all communications that relate to legislating under privilege. That will also include records between legislators and the state’s lieutenant governor, as well as outside contractors. 

The move comes after multiple, lengthy court battles over the Texas legislature’s 2011 redistricting effort. That map came under heavy criticism – and a federal lawsuit – for being a racial gerrymander designed to limit the electoral power of Hispanic voters.  

Texas legislators contested that allegation in court, but their defense was undermined by the release of emails that showed Texas officials debating the effect of the map on Hispanic voters. 

Federal officials claimed in a 2011 case that one cache of messages showed that Texas Republicans were trying to dampen the voting power of Hispanic residents. 

One message, for example, shows the head of a county redistricting commission telling minority representatives that “[Y]ou all are protected by the Voting Rights Act and we are not.” 

“We don’t want to lose these people due to population growth in the county, or we won’t have any districts left,” the Texas official said. 

Another series of emails showed one staffer fretting over whether the maps would pass pre-clearance under the Voting Rights Act, calling the map “high-risk poker with no discernible positive return” and that it had “next to no chance of pre-clearance.” 

The release of the emails had the effect of catching Texas Republicans red-handed in their attempt to gerrymander electoral power away from Hispanics. The federal court threw out the 2011 map and ordered Texas Republicans to redraw districts for the 2012 elections.

In theory, the release of these messages would be restricted by the new Texas law, which prohibits the release of communications that were “given privately.”

The Supreme Court ruled last week that federal courts had no business in policing partisan gerrymandering, while upholding a ban on racial gerrymanders.

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