Fate of Texas primaries still up in the air after SCOTUS hearing today

Anybody expecting to get some hint of resolution to the redistricting battle raging here in Texas following oral arguments over the issue today before the U.S. Supreme Court is probably disappointed, as it seems the justices want to see the Texas primary elections, already postponed from March to April 3, pushed back to an even later date.

Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis

According Associated Press legal affairs reporter Mark Sherman (as quoted on the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s blog, PoliTex), “The justices discussed moving the primary date back further to give the courts handling different aspects of the case more time. ‘Why can’t this all be pushed back, and wouldn’t that eliminate a lot of the problems we are grappling with in this case?’ Justice Samuel Alito asked.”

And TheHill.com indicates that justices were not happy with either the map drawn last year by the GOP-controlled Texas Legislature or with the interim map drawn last month by federal judges in San Antonio, quoting Chief Justice John Roberts as saying during today’s hearing, “How do you decide between two wrong choices?”

TheHill.com also said, “Most justices indicated they thought both maps were unacceptable and could not be put into law without violating the Voting Rights Act.”

The Legislature’s map favors Republicans, especially in Tarrant County where Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis saw her district taken away, with portions of it allocated to more Republican-leaning areas north and south of Fort Worth.

That map was challenged in federal court by Democratic lawmakers, including Davis, and minority groups who claim that the voting power of Hispanics and other minorities were severely compromised by lawmakers’ map. The federal judges then issued a redrawn interim map that basically re-established Davis’ district and created a new Democratic-leaning congressional district in Tarrant County, among other changes.

State officials then appealed directly to the Supreme Court.

At the same time, the federal district court in Washington, D.C., is in the middle of hearing a separate case challenging the lawmakers’ map, with opponents claiming that map violates the Voting Rights Act. That court is not expected to reach a conclusion in time for Texas to hold primaries on April 3.

Officials with both political parties in North Texas have said they are at a standstill until some court somewhere reaches a decision.

“We’re waiting, just like everybody else,” said Jennifer Hall, interim chair of the Tarrant County Republican Party. Regardless of which map — either one of the two in question now or something completely different — is eventually used, Hall said, “It’s going to make a lot of work for us.”

And Darlene Ewing, chair of the Dallas County Democratic Party, said recently, “Right now, everything is in limbo, right down to the question of, ‘Do I even still live in my same precinct?’ It’s just crazy. We have a whole bunch of candidates who don’t even know if they legally reside in the districts where they have filed to run.”

Dallas County Republican Party Chair Wade Emmert said today that unless the courts settle the matter by mid-January, “we’ll have to push the primaries back again.”

The final outcome could impact which party controls both houses of Congress after this year’s election. And that could have serious consequences for the LGBT equality movement.

The ongoing battle has already affected the schedule for at least one LGBT political group: Stonewall Democrats of Dallas announced today that they have had to reschedule their endorsements screening session. The new date for the group’s endorsement screenings is Feb. 18, beginning at 9 a.m., in the Rainbow Room at Resource Center Dallas, 2701 Reagan St. To be eligible to vote on endorsements, individuals must be members in good standing, which means they must have all dues paid current by midnight on Jan. 19.

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