Texas Slapped With Fees From Redistricting Fight

     (CN) – Texas’ indignant reply to a bid for attorneys’ fees in a redistricting battle is “a case study in how not to respond,” a federal judge ruled, awarding the state’s opponents more than $1 million.
     U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer in Washington, D.C., said Texas “basically ignore[d] the arguments supporting an award of fees and costs” to parties that had opposed the state’s lawsuit seeking approval of its 2011 redistricting plans.
     The Republican-controlled Legislature had redrawn election maps following a 2010 Census report that the state’s population had grown by more than 4 million since 2000.
     Voters and various advocacy groups called the 2011 plans discriminatory, saying they diluted the strength of minority votes. As the legal challenges mounted, Texas urged a panel of federal judges in Washington, D.C., to declare that its redistricting plans “fully comply” with the Voting Rights Act.
     Texas was, at the time, one of nine states that had to receive preclearance of their redistricting plans from either the U.S. Department of Justice or the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, under the Voting Rights Act.
     Helping the government argue against preclearance were voters, elected state representatives and civil rights advocacy groups, some of whom are plaintiffs in the Texas lawsuits.
     They ultimately convinced the Washington judges to reject Texas’ redistricting plans, forcing the Texas court to impose a set of interim maps for the 2012 elections. The Texas Legislature ratified and adopted those interim maps, with a few changes, and repealed its 2011 maps late last June.
     The case took an interesting twist on June 25, 2013 — one day before Gov. Rick Perry signed the redistricting plans into law — when the Supreme Court struck down key portions of the Voting Rights Act, including the preclearance requirement.
     The justices’ then vacated the D.C. court’s preclearance denial in light of its ruling in Shelby County v. Holder. On remand, the three-judge panel in Washington granted Texas’ motion to dismiss.
     The state essentially considered the case closed, so it bristled when some of the intervenors sought attorneys’ fees and costs as the “prevailing party.”
     “In a three-page filing entitled ‘advisory,’ Texas trumpets the Supreme Court’s decision, expresses indignation at having to respond at all, and presumes that the motion for attorneys’ fees is so frivolous that Texas need not provide further briefing in opposition unless requested,” Collyer wrote in her 24-page opinion Wednesday. “Such an opposition is insufficient in this jurisdiction.”
     She said the advisory “fails to recognize that the limited holding of Shelby County did not resolve the issues here” and “entirely ignores the legal arguments raised by fee applicants concerning their rights as prevailing parties.”
     “Texas has had every chance to oppose the fees and costs that fee applicants seek since the applications,” Collyer added. “It instead opted to file a three-page advisory that ignored every argument of fee applicants except the applicability of Shelby County.”
     She awarded more than $1 million to three groups of intervenors: $466,680 to state legislators from districts in the Forth Worth area; $597,715 to a group of black and Hispanic voters; and $32,374 to the Texas State Conference of NAACP Branches.
     The Texas lawsuits were transferred and consolidated before a three-judge panel in the Western District of Texas. On Tuesday, the judges refused to dismiss claims stemming from the 2011 redistricting maps, but tossed political gerrymandering claims over the maps adopted last year to replace them.

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