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Texas lawmakers in redistricting battle can’t block deposition

Lawmakers failed to persuade the Supreme Court that legislative privilege would get them out of testifying about redistricting plans that could discriminate against minority voters.

WASHINGTON (CN) — The Supreme Court refused Tuesday to block the deposition of Texas lawmakers in redistricting suits.  

Mum as to whether there were any dissents, the order from the justices keeps in place a lower court ruling that will force Republican lawmakers to appear for depositions in suits claiming that Texas’ redistricting plans are discriminatory. Per their custom, the justices also did not offer any explanation for their ruling. 

The United States subpoenaed three Texas lawmakers at the beginning of the month to testify in a challenge to the state’s 2021 congressional and state House redistricting plans. The Department of Justice and voting rights groups claim the new maps violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act by intentionally discriminating against minority voters in West Texas and the Dallas-Fort Worth area. 

Representatives Ryan Guillen, Brooks Landgraf and John Lujan tried to limit their testimony to matters in the public record, but a federal judge denied their motion and their attempt to block the testimony altogether. Likewise the Fifth Circuit refused to enter a stay pending appeal that would block their testimony. 

In their application to the high court, Texas lawmakers claim they have the privilege and immunity to avoid testifying in the suits. 

“The legislators’ depositions will probe the very innerworkings of the legislative process, examining the legislators’ thoughts, impressions, and motivations for their legislative acts,” wrote Taylor A.R. Meehan, an attorney with Consovoy McCarthy representing the lawmakers. 

He also warned that lawmakers would have to answer questions in full the “proverbial ‘cat is out of the bag.’ And the twin safeguards of legislative immunity and privilege — older than the country itself — are no safeguards at all.” 

The Justice Department said the depositions were routine. 

“Courts, including this Court, often rely on such testimony both in assessing the motive and justification for districting choices and in considering the ‘totality of circumstances’ relevant to minority voters’ electoral opportunities, as the VRA directs,” Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar wrote in the government’s opposition brief

The government notes that Lujan has a particularly weak claim to legislative privilege since he was not in the Legislature when the redistricting plans were passed. 

“Representative John Lujan, does not have even an arguable claim of legislative privilege with respect to the challenged districting plans because he was not in the legislature when the plans were passed — a critical fact that applicants do not mention,” Prelogar wrote. 

The court’s order comes after the depositions were scheduled to begin. Texas lawmakers asked the justices to intervene before May 24 but the court’s order did not come until the second week of scheduled testimony. 

Earlier Tuesday, the justices released an order list in which they did not take up any new cases.

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