As of this writing, Texas is the only state in the union whose citizens have no earthly idea when, or if, they will hold a primary election for the two major parties this year. The primaries depend on a reapportionment map of the state, which doesn’t exist.
The U.S. Constitution clearly states that “Representatives . . . shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this union, according to their respective numbers” and reapportioned every ten years. The ten-year reapportionment is for adjustments caused by a decade’s national census. Under the last census, Texas gained four representatives because of a growth in her population. The state legislature has the right and obligation to reapportion the districts to reflect the change in Texas, with a map outlining the districts. Nowhere in the Constitution, or the amendments thereto, is there a mention of a federal court having to approve such a legislative map before it goes into effect. In fact, the Tenth Amendment makes it clear that the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution are reserved to the states. So what’s the problem?
The legislature of Texas has made its reapportionment map. Indeed, it has made several, in succession. Unfortunately, none can take effect because of the (unconstitutional) Voting Rights Act of 1965, which has been renewed four times, the last by President George W. Bush, for 25 more years. The act purports to require the approval of a federal court before a Southern state’s reapportionment is legal, and usually, Texas has meekly complied. For several years past, various racial and ethnic organizations, whether or not they actually represented anyone, have challenged the legislative maps and won before the federal court, causing the maps to be redrawn to accommodate such groups. This year there are a record number of complainers, a Republican legislature with some backbone, and a vacillating federal court. The panel of judges has ruled recently that all of the complainers, plus the legislature, must be in full “voluntary” agreement on all district lines. Meeting after meeting, and map after map, have produced nothing, since there is always at least one complaining group holding out. Today, it is LULAC, the League of United Latin American Citizens, which claims that two new Hispanic-majority districts out of four is not enough, though the increase in citizens is mostly Anglo. Public pressure has not moved this group, and there is always a chance that, even if it gets its way, one of the other groups might then decide that it doesn’t like the resulting map.
The upshot is that the primary originally scheduled for March might not be held until April, May, or even after the national conventions. The court is also playing with the idea of Texas holding two primaries, one for the parties’ presidential/senatorial nominations, and another one for the parties’ nominations to the House of Representatives and state legislative offices. This would cost the state millions, as well as possibly cause the failure of the latter primary to be held in time for campaigning.
Meanwhile, no would-be candidate for the House knows which district he is in. So he doesn’t know which to announce his candidacy for, or whether to do so at all, since he doesn’t know who his constituency would be.
Today’s mess ensued because the Voting Rights Act has become a sacred cow, since it was mislabeled a civil-rights law.
The Voting Rights Act was first passed during a highly emotional time, a situation the Constitution as a whole was designed to discourage in the making of our laws. It applies only to the Southern states, even thought the Northern states are now most guilty of gerrymandering by race, ethnicity, and for other demographic considerations, as well as to protect incumbencies. The last federal court to approve a Texas map by the exhausted legislature created a district stretching from a part of San Antonio, in the south-central part of the state, to a part of El Paso, in the far western tip, a distance of almost 550 miles, and only a few city blocks or a quarter-mile wide in most areas. There was no “community of interest” in that district whatsoever. The newest map, now requiring the full agreement of so many disparate groups, will probably be worse, if it is approved by the federal court at all.
Perhaps the greatest irony is that the Voting Rights Act of 1965—this throwback to the unlamented Reconstruction period—is now the only U.S. law in 150 years to recognize the Confederate States of America, if only for the purpose of punishing those states of which it had consisted.