Texas Redistricting Cases:  the 1990s

Mena v. Richards, No. C-454-91-F (332nd Dist. Ct., Hidalgo County, complaint filed 1991) (originally a challenge to use of census, later amended to challenge legislative redistricting plans; served as vehicle for Senate, House settlements)

Quiroz v. Richards, No. C-4395-91-F (332nd Dist. Ct., Hidalgo County, complaint filed 1991) (vehicle for Senate settlement)

Terrazas v. Ramirez829 S.W.2d 712 (Tex. 1991)

This was an original proceeding brought in the Texas Supreme Court to challenge settlements for the state Senate reached in district court in Hidalgo County in Mena v. Richards and Quiroz v. Richards.  A fractured Supreme Court found that the State's Attorney General did have the power to enter a settlement agreement in redistricting litigation on behalf of the State.  However, the Supreme Court found that the district court erred when approving the settlement as it did not provide an opportunity for other interested parties to intervene and be heard.  Accordingly, the Supreme Court vacated the district court's order approving the settlement and found that further proceedings in the district court must allow for other interested parties to intervene and be heard and for deference to the legislative branch in remedying any constitutional defects in redistricting plans.  Further litigation in Mena was essentially preempted by the federal district court in Terrazas v. Slagle.

Craddick v. Richards, No. A-38,899 (238th Dist. Ct., Midland County, complaint filed Jan. 8, 1992, case not prosecuted and dismissed 1995) (challenge to house and senate plans)

Terrazas v. Slagle789 F. Supp. 828 (W.D. Tex. 1991), aff'd sub nom. Richards v. Terrazas, 505 U.S. 1214 (1992) (mem.) and Slagle v. Terrrazas, 506 U.S. 801(1992) (mem.)

This was a proceeding brought against state legislative and congressional districts as violating the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and § 2 of the Voting Rights Act.  A three-judge federal panel found the congressional plan legal.  At the time the court decided this case, there were no plans enacted by the State for the state House and Senate that would be effective in time for the primary election.  The Court imposed court-drawn plans for 1992.

Terrazas v. Slagle821 F. Supp. 1154 (W.D. Tex. 1992)

The three-judge federal panel ruled that the State must use the court-ordered plan for the state Senate for 1992 general election, even though the state-enacted plan was then effective because primaries had already been held under the court-ordered plan and the State's scheme to substitute the state-enacted plan for the general election had not received preclearance.

Terrazas v. Slagle821 F. Supp. 1162 (W.D. Tex 1993) (per curiam)

The three-judge federal panel granted summary judgment for the State on a challenge to the House redistricting plan because the current plan had not been challenged on any grounds.  The State was also granted summary judgment on the Senate plan on partisan gerrymandering and  § 2 challenges.  The finding on the § 2 challenge was unusual because an earlier version of the same panel found sua sponte that the Senate plan did violate § 2.  The Court concluded that the previous conclusory finding was not necessary in the context of the order that it accompanied.  Finally, the State was granted summary judgment on both § 2 and partisan gerrymandering challenges to its congressional plan.  The opinion contains a useful discussion on summary judgment in the context of a partisan gerrymandering case.

Texas v. Mosbacher, 783 F. Supp. 308 (S.D. Tex. 1992) (motion denied to dismiss challenge to refusal to adjust population count)

Texas v. United States,785 F. Supp. 201 (D. D.C. 1992)

The State brought a proceeding in federal district court for the District of Columbia for preclearance of House, Senate, congressional, and State Board of Education plans.  Only the Senate plan was contested.  The Court held that earlier preclearance of the Mena settlement plan did not act as preclearance for the later legislative-enacted version of the same plan.  The Court noted that in the meantime the Terrazas court had ordered a plan and that the legislative version of Mena had to be compared to the court-ordered plan.

Texas v. United States802 F. Supp. 481 (D. D.C. 1992)

The Court granted the State's motion for summary judgment preclearing the Senate plan.  The Department of Justice did not oppose this motion, but intervenors in the case did.  Intervenors argued that the plan was not entitled to preclearance because the Terrazas panel had found that it violated § 2.  The Court found that it was not bound by the Terrazas finding because the issue had not been litigated in the Terrazas case and the finding was not essential to resolving the case before the Terrazas panel.  Summary affirmance of the Terrazas decision by the U.S. Supreme Court only affirmed the judgment and not the specific statements of the decision.

Vera v. Richards, 861 F. Supp. 1304 (S.D.Tex.1994), aff'd sub nom. Bush v. Vera, 116 S. Ct. 1941 (1996)


Congressional District 30 Congressional District 18 Congressional District 29
Under the 1990 reapportionment of seats in Congress, Texas was entitled to three additional congressional districts. The Texas Legislature decided to draw one new Hispanic-majority district in South Texas, one new African American-majority district in Dallas County (District 30), and one new Hispanic-majority district in the Houston area (District 29). In addition, the Legislature decided to reconfigure a district in the Houston area (District 18) to increase its percentage of African Americans. The Texas Legislature had developed a state-of-the-art computer system that allowed it to draw congressional districts using racial data at the census block level. Working closely with the Texas congressional delegation and various members of the Legislature who intended to run for Congress, the Texas Legislature took great care to draw three new districts and reconfigure a district that the chosen candidates could win.

The Justice Department precleared the plan under § 5 of the Voting Rights Act and it was used in the 1992 election.

Plaintiffs challenged 24 of the state's 30 congressional districts as racial gerrymanders. The federal district court struck down three, Districts 18, 29, and 30, but the decision was stayed pending appeal, so the plan continued in use for the 1994 election.

Bush v. Vera116 S. Ct. 1941 (1996)

In June of 1996, the Supreme Court affirmed the district court's decision throwing out those three districts.  The Court, in a plurality opinion written by Justice O'Connor, found that the plan was subject to strict scrutiny. She repeated what the Court had said in Shaw v. Reno,509 U.S. 630 (1993), that strict scrutiny does not apply merely because redistricting is performed with consciousness of race. She added that strict scrutiny does not apply in all cases of intentional creation of majority-minority districts, such as the compact districts created by a state court in California. But strict scrutiny does apply where race was the predominant factor in drawing district lines and traditional, race-neutral districting principles were subordinated to race. 116 S. Ct. at 1951.

The State argued that the bizarre shape of District 30 in Dallas County was explained by the drafters' desire to unite urban communities of interest and that the bizarre shape of all three districts was attributable to the Legislature's efforts to protect incumbents of old districts while designing the new ones. The Supreme Court upheld the district court's finding to the contrary, holding that race was the predominant factor. 116 S. Ct. at 1959-60.

The Court again assumed without deciding that complying with § 2 of the Voting Rights Act was a compelling state interest, 116 S. Ct. 1960, (in her separate concurring opinion, Justice O'Connor said that it is a compelling state interest), but found that the districts were not narrowly tailored to comply with § 2 because all three districts were bizarrely shaped and far from compact as a result of racial manipulation. To the extent there was political manipulation, race was used as a proxy for political affiliation. It was race that predominated. 116 S. Ct. at 1961.

Justice O'Connor further noted that:

116 S. Ct. at 1962.

The court pointed out that, if the minority population is not sufficiently compact to draw a compact district, there is no violation of § 2; if the minority population is sufficiently compact to draw a compact district, nothing in § 2 requires the creation of a race-based district that is far from compact. 116 S. Ct. at 1961.

How compact must a race-based district be? Reasonably compact.

116 S. Ct. at 1960.

The Court found that the district lines were not justified as an attempt to remedy the effects of past discrimination, since there was no evidence of present discrimination other than racially polarized voting. Since racially polarized voting only served to make a case for a violation of § 2, and the plan was not narrowly tailored to remedy a § 2 violation, the bizarre shapes were not justified.

The Court found that creation of District 18, the reconfigured African American district in the Houston area, was not justified as an attempt to avoid retrogression under § 5, since it actually increased the African American voting population from 40.8 percent to 50.9 percent.

Vera v. Bush933 F. Supp. 1341 (S.D. Tex. Aug. 6, 1996)

On remand, after being notified by the Governor that he did not intend to call a special session to redraw the invalid districts in time for the 1996 election, the district court redrew both the offending districts and the districts adjoining them to be more compact. It ordered the voters in the 13 affected congressional districts to participate in a special open primary election to be held the same day as the general election, with a runoff election to be held December 10, 1996, if no candidate in a district received a majority of the votes cast in the primary. The Court denominated its plan an interim one, to govern the 1996 election only, and directed the Texas Legislature to draft a plan to govern future elections by June 30, 1997.

Congressional District 30 Congressional District 18 Congressional District 29

Vera v. Bush980 F. Supp. 251; 980 F. Supp. 254 (S.D. Tex. 1997)

When the Legislature failed to enact a permanent plan by the June 30, 1997, deadline, the Court ordered the 1996 interim plan to remain in place indefinitely, despite population deviations among the districts.  The Court relied on Abrams v. Johnson, 117 S. Ct. 1925 (1997) in finding that "equitable considerations disfavor engaging in yet another redistricting effort to correct miniscule population deviations in this Court's 1996 interim plan."

Thomas v. BushNo. A-95-CV-186-SS (W.D. Tex. ________, 1995) (filed in Southern District as No. H-95-0237, but transferred to Western District on motion to change venue)

This was a Shaw challenge to House and Senate district lines.  The parties reached a settlement for the1996 elections.  The Legislature adopted the plans in 1997 and the challenge was dismissed.

Armbrister v. Morales943 S.W.2d 202 (Tex. App.-- Austin, 1997)

Senators, who serve staggered four-year terms, sought a declaratory judgment that the Legislature's enactment of the court-ordered plan used in the previous election was not a new apportionment of the Senate within the meaning of the constitutional provision requiring all senators to run for election following a new apportionment and then draw lots to determine who serves a two-year term and who serves a four-year term.  The trial court held that enactment of a court-ordered plan was a new apportionment.  The appellate court reversed and rendered a decision for the senators.

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David R. Hanna 
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