No Home Court Advantage in Texas Gerrymandering Suit

     AUSTIN, Texas (CN) – Travis County voters should litigate claims that the Texas Legislature’s redistricting plan is a product of “conscious racial gerrymandering” on their home turf, a federal judge wrote, dissenting from a panel decision to transfer the case to San Antonio.
     The city of Austin, 14 voters and Travis County sued Gov. Rick Perry, Texas and various other state and party officials in the Austin division of the Western District of Texas on May 30. They claimed that the Legislature violated the U.S. Constitution by adjourning indefinitely without drawing new lines for the Texas congressional districts. They also said the Legislature should have added four seats based on 2010 census data.
     After the Legislature passed a new redistricting plan with Senate Bill 4 in a special session from May 31 to June 29, the plaintiffs amended their complaint to allege that the new redistricting plan stifled the impact of minority voters in the Austin area and across the state, in what the plaintiffs call “conscious racial gerrymandering.”
     As requested by the plaintiffs, the court convened a three-judge panel consisting of U.S. Circuit Judge Jerry Smith, U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia and U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel.
     The majority of the panel decided Wednesday to transfer the case sua sponte to the San Antonio division where there are four pending cases with similar complaints.
     Yeakel opposed the transfer and filed a six-page dissenting opinion.
     It is no more convenient for the parties and witnesses to try the case in San Antonio rather than 90 miles away in Austin, according to the six-page filing. He judge also agreed with the plaintiffs that Austin’s “unique political culture” of electing minorities is a compelling reason to keep the case in Austin.
     “The majority ignores special circumstances that may exist from political subdivision to political subdivision,” Yeakel wrote. “In addition, the majority makes light of the efforts of the Texas Supreme Court to avoid forum shopping and filing of patently ridiculous actions months before there is a redistricting plan of which to object.”
     “Finally, I question whether a truly statewide perspective can be brought to issues of statewide importance and consequence when all such issues are tried before one panel that includes two district judges from the same division of the same district,” he added, urging for a diverse approach to an issue that encompasses the entire state.
     “Because this cause filed in the Austin Division was the first ripe case involving congressional redistricting, and issues in congressional redistricting stand on their own, it is my belief that this cause should not be transferred to the San Antonio Division of the Western District of Texas, and I respectfully dissent.”
     Defendants are Gov. Rick Perry, Lt.Gov. David Dewhurst, Speaker of the House Joe Straus, Secretary of State Hope Andrade, Texas, and the chairs of the state’s Democratic Party and Republican Party.

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