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Texas primary set for April 3

A federal District Court in San Antonio on Friday moved the 2012 primary election date in the state to almost a month later, setting it for April 3 — a move that will give the Supreme Court some added time to settle whether the District Court can craft new election districts — and, if so, how to do it — for seats in the state legislature and in Texas’s delegation in the U.S. House of Representatives.   The order (found here) put into effect an agreement between the two main political parties in the state as they reached a temporary truce in an ongoing legal battle.

The primary previously had been set for March 6, but that date had grown increasingly doubtful after the Supreme Court agreed a week ago to hear and decide a challenge by the state government to “interim” redistricting plans drawn up by the three-judge court in San Antonio.   The Justices are to hold oral argument on three separate appeals by the state on Monday, Jan. 9, after returning from a holiday recess.   The cases are being reviewed on an expedited schedule, but it is unknown how soon after the oral argument a final decision will emerge.

In Friday’s scheduling order, the District Court endorsed a single primary date.  Earlier, the Texas attorney general had sought to split the primary date, in order to have voters go to the polls on the previously set date of March 6 to vote for presidential candidates and for those seeking some state offices, but with voters to return to the polls at a later date to vote for candidates for the state house, for the state Senate, and for the 36-member delegation in the U.S. House of Representatives.   The idea of two primaries had been opposed by most current members of the U.S. House from Texas and by minority voters’ groups, and it also had split Texas Republicans.

The District Court had urged the parties to try to work something out, and they were able to do so earlier in the day Friday.   The court added its approval later in the day, and in doing so noted that no one involved directly in the legal contest had objected to the proposed schedule.   The order worked out a series of deadlines for conducting the 2012 elections in the state, with the new primary date set for April 3.   If runoff elections are necessary for any contests, that election will be held on June 5, under the order.

The order cautioned that the dates it laid out depended upon having a new set of redistricting maps in place by February 1.   The Court remarked:  “The following schedule is contingent upon this Court entering redistricting plans for Texas House, Senate and Congress on or before February 1, 2012.   It should be carefully noted, however, that nothing in this Order should be construed as an assurance or prediction that new redistricting plans will have been ordered by February 1, 2012. This Court has no control over the timing of decisions by other courts that are involved in this process.”

Besides the Supreme Court, a three-judge District Court in Washington, D.C., is reviewing redistricting maps drawn up earlier this year for the legislative seats by the state legislature.  Those maps have been challenged by minority groups and by the U.S. Justice Department.   The challengers contend that the maps were put together by the Republican-dominated legislature to favor Republican candidates, and to minimize the influence in state voting of the state’s large and growing Hispanic population.

The District Court in San Antonio fashioned a set of districting maps on its own, saying that it had no authority to judge the validity of the plans drawn by the state legislature, since the primary judicial duty of reviewing those plans lies with the District Court in Washington, under the federal Voting Rights Act.   Six separate lawsuits have been filed in the San Antonio court against the legislature’s maps.

Meanwhile, in the Supreme Court, both state officials and challengers of the legislature’s maps are to file briefs on the merits next Wednesday.   At that time, the state officials are expected to spell out the specific issues they are asking the Supreme Court to decide.   The state has contended that the San Antonio court had no authority to draw up its own plans without trying to salvage as much as it could of the plans drawn by the Texas legislature. 



Recommended Citation: Lyle Denniston, Texas primary set for April 3, SCOTUSblog (Dec. 17, 2011, 12:02 AM),