When the Supreme Court takes on a key part of a voting rights law later this month, Texas Democrats will be watching more closely than anyone on Capitol Hill.
The high court’s ruling could affect whether, and how, the congressional boundaries in the state will be revised — yet again.
In the coming days, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Republicans in the state Legislature are set to pass into law the interim map used last cycle. In 2012, a federal court in San Antonio ordered officials to use this interim map because the one that state lawmakers originally drew failed to pass muster with federal officials.
But in the next few weeks, the Supreme Court may decide whether that kind of approval is even necessary. The justices are expected to rule on Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act — a provision that forces certain states with a history of discrimination, including Texas, to seek federal approval for any changes to its voting laws, including the maps.
The case mean Texas Democrats face uncertainty again over their district boundaries.
“There are certain things in life you can’t control, and one of them is what the Supreme Court is going to do,” said former Rep. Martin Frost, a Texas Democrat and redistricting expert. “You just have to wait and see.”
The most contentious parts of the Texas map are places that have experienced explosive minority growth over the past decade. They include Rep. Lloyd Doggett’s 35th District south of Austin, freshman Rep. Pete Gallego’s 23rd District in west Texas and freshman Rep. Marc Veasey’s 33rd District in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.
Veasey, who is from Fort Worth, represents a safe Democratic seat. But he could face a major challenge if the current lines stick. His primary foe from 2012, former state Rep. Domingo Garcia, told CQ Roll Call earlier this month that he’s “seriously looking at a rematch.”
The 33rd is a majority-minority district, where blacks and Hispanics together make up more than half of the voting-age population. Garcia counts as his base Hispanics in Dallas.
In 2012, Veasey defeated Garcia in the primary runoff by just 1,113 votes, with the support of Fort Worth-based black voters. But Democrats believe they could avoid a rematch under a revised map. For this reason, both Democrats were hesitant to discuss the race.
In an interview, Veasey avoided discussing Garcia altogether. And Garcia cautioned that any campaign planning is in limbo as he and other Texas Democrats await the state’s redistricting map resolution.
“It’s too early to speculate on what may or may not happen to the map,” said Veasey, a former state legislator. “I want everybody to be treated fairly in this process. That’s what I’ve always been for.”
If the high court upholds Section 5, Democrats hope they can appeal the interim map. They want to create an additional majority-minority seat in the Dallas-Fort Worth region. That would mean the metroplex would host two black majority districts (one is represented by Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, a Democrat) and one Hispanic majority district.
Regardless of the high court, local lawmakers will probably pass the court-ordered interim map later this week. The state Senate passed the interim map last week, and an identical bill will move to the state House soon.
If the high court strikes down Section 5, Republicans anticipate the interim map will stay. The 33rd District would remain as currently drawn, and the region would likely host a Dallas versus Fort Worth rematch.
Republicans would prefer to keep the current Texas map in place, although operatives underscored the uncertainly of the litigious situation.
“The current prospects look good for the court-ordered map to be passed by the Legislature,” said Guy Harrison, a top GOP operative from Texas and former executive director of the National Republican Congressional Committee. “But this is the state Legislature, and anything can happen.”
In the meantime, Democrats continue to work under their current lines. Veasey, a former Frost staffer, eagerly ticked off his outreach to Dallas, including numerous appearances in the city and its suburbs. “It’s like any campaign,” Veasey said of his re-election. “You go out there and you fight hard and you do everything you can.”
On the flip side, Garcia’s strategy would be to organize and register Hispanics in Dallas. A wealthy attorney, Garcia self-funded much of his 2012 campaign. When asked how much money he was prepared to spend if he opted for another run, his answer was simple: “Whatever it takes,” Garcia said.