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More Redistricting Ahead in Texas, Maybe Florida

A handful of members shouldn’t get too comfortable in the districts where they just won. Those districts might be changing soon.

Texas, Florida and a few other states could have different congressional maps by November 2014.

“The one state with congressional lines that we still absolutely know have to be redrawn is Texas,” said Justin Levitt, a redistricting expert at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. “In other states, there are a few legal challenges still pending.”

Ten states continue to contend with litigation over their congressional maps — about half of which have a realistic shot in court, according to Levitt. They are hangovers from the 2012 cycle’s redistricting, the decennial process of redrawing districts to account for population changes after the census.

The redraws could result in changes in one to a half dozen House seats. These alterations would likely benefit Democrats, especially in Texas or Florida. But redistricting experts caution litigation and resulting redraws could last until 2014 — or beyond.

Texas

113th Congress House Delegation: 12 Democrats, 24 Republicans

The state gained four new seats in reapportionment, and some district boundaries stand to change depending on pending litigation. A federal court assigned an interim map that was used in November as a temporary fix, and now Texas officials are battling for a permanent solution.

For the most part, Republicans are content to keep the interim map used for the 2012 elections — if the courts allow it.

“I don’t sense a lot of anxiousness from either the state or congressional side to open back up congressional redistricting,” said Chris Perkins, a GOP pollster tasked with redrawing the Texas map in 2003. “But if they are forced to act, then they’ll have to do something.”

Privately, Republicans say they expect tweaking to incoming Democratic Rep. Pete Gallego’s south Texas district to include more Hispanics. But the political effect would be minimal and the district would remain competitive.

Democrats and minority groups hold out hope for a redraw that includes new favorable districts around Dallas and Austin. They argue that explosive minority growth in those areas demand new districts.

“I think there’s a good chance the court will make some changes,” said Michael Li, a Texas redistricting expert and Democratic attorney. “I think there’s a strong argument that something needs to be done in central Texas.”

Texas has a history of never-ending battles over its congressional map, and the 2012 redraw was no exception. That’s in part because Texas is one of a several states that must get federal approval before making any changes to its voting laws under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

State GOP lawmakers passed an aggressive new congressional map that aimed to give the GOP at least three new seats. But in August, the District of Columbia’s District Court rejected that map, declaring lawmakers intentionally discriminated against minority groups. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott appealed the map to the Supreme Court, essentially asking the justices to rule on a key part of the landmark civil rights legislation.

While the high court decides whether to take that case, a related legal battle begins over the interim map.

Abbott, who declined an interview through his spokeswoman, has argued the San Antonio federal court should wait for Supreme Court action next year before it rules. In his brief, Abbott argued the high court’s decision on Section 5 will affect the federal approval process for the map.

Democrats and minority groups asked the court to rule sooner. Texas lawmakers have only one opportunity to redraw a congressional map during their biennial session ending this spring.

Florida

113th Congress House Delegation: 10 Democrats, 17 Republicans

The Sunshine State picked up two seats because of population increases and Republican-controlled redistricting 2012. But it is ripe for changes to its map pending litigation, thanks to a recently passed anti-gerrymandering law.

In 2010, Florida voters approved a “Fair Districts” amendment to the state constitution that intended to outlaw gerrymandering.

Democrats sued to redraw the map based on this new law, and the litigation continues to make its way through the Florida courts.

If courts redraw the map this cycle, Democrats see an opportunity to pick up one to three additional seats under new lines. Republicans are less optimistic the court will take over the redistricting process.

It’s anyone’s guess whether Florida courts will have an appetite to redraw the map or would ask the GOP-controlled Legislature to try again with its own redraw. There’s no legal precedent for this in Florida given the new law.

Other States

There could be more mapmaking to come in additional states in the rare process known as “re-redistricting.”

State legislators can redraw the districts mid-decade as long as the state constitution does not prohibit it. In the past decade, for example, Texas and Georgia legislators redrew their congressional maps in 2003 and 2005, respectively.

“There just aren’t a lot of regulations about when states can decide to redraw the lines if they wish,” Levitt said. “There are an awful lot of states where it’s theoretically possible.”

What’s more, the Supreme Court is scheduled to consider a case that deals directly with the constitutionality of Section 5: Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder.

The court could choose to combine the Shelby case with Abbott’s appeal — although attorneys say that’s less likely. Still, if the court strikes down Section 5, state lawmakers could redraw maps in states previously covered by the law: Alabama, Georgia, Arizona, South Carolina and Texas, to name a few.

But if that’s the case, Levitt warns not to expect wholesale redraws in some states. There are other parts of the Voting Rights Act, for example Section 2, that prohibit voter discrimination.

“Section 5 is a powerful medicine, but it’s not the only dose,” Levitt added.

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