District Judge James Lagomarsino has small children, so he wasn’t asleep at midnight Saturday when the congressman’s people came to his door wanting to file a lawsuit at precisely 12:01 a.m. Sunday morning.
“We filed it in Navarro County because (Joe Barton) wanted it to be done in our district,” explained Sean Brown, spokesman for U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Ennis. “From what I understand, he filed it when he did at 12:01 Sunday morning because it was clear the state legislature was not going to be able to meet his deadline for getting a map done. So one of the reasons he did that was to protect the constitutional rights of his constituents and all voters in Texas.”
What expired Saturday was the chance to get a bill on the agenda to be acted on in the Texas legislature before the end of the session on Monday. A redistricting committee has been working on the new maps since January, but the disputes weren’t resolved in time. There is an opportunity for a special session, which would extend to the end of June and allow 30 more days for the legislature to finish its work on the budget and redistricting, but that has to be called by the governor, who hasn’t said whether or not he will call one.
Brown said Barton welcomes that.
“The lawsuit doesn’t preclude the governor from calling a special session and, in fact, Rep. Barton thinks this is an issue that should be solved legislatively,” Brown said. “The lawsuit is a backup plan in case the legislature doesn’t act.”
The lawsuit points out that the current congressional district map is seven years old and doesn’t include the four new congressional seats awarded as a result of the 2010 census, and that to use the old map violates the one-man, one-vote rule asserted by the U.S. Supreme Court.
It asks the court to declare the old map a violation of the law, forbid using the old map, impose a new map and pay for the plaintiff’s attorney fees and lawsuit expenses.
However, while the suit asks that the court impose a new congressional district map, a proposed district map was not included in the petition.
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram has reported that the Barton dispute is over Hispanic representation. In an article by Dave Montgomery, the Star-Telegram reported that fellow Congressman Lamar Smith, a Republican from San Antonio, has submitted a proposed redistricting map with two new Hispanic-dominant districts in North and Central Texas, which would likely go to Democrats.
Barton’s staff prefers that the new districts favor Republicans. Complicating the issue is that Texas falls into a group of Southern states whose redistricting maps have to be approved by the U.S. Department of Justice, a measure put in to prevent racial gerrymandering, which discriminates against minority groups.
Every 10 years, the U.S. government takes a census of the nation and apportions the congressional seats according to where the population has grown. States like Texas that grow in population gain congressional seats. Once the state knows how many seats it will have, then it has to redraw the districts for the Texas House of Representatives and the Texas Senate, and the Texas seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.
When the Texas legislature redrew the map in 2003 in a controversial triple-special-session marathon to benefit Republicans, it flipped the balance of power in the U.S. House of Representatives from Democratic to Republican. The machinations behind the redistricting also landed the U.S. House of Representatives Majority Leader Tom DeLay in prison.
Lagomarsino said he wouldn’t comment on the lawsuit, but he did confirm that it was filed just after midnight Sunday morning.
“I was already up. I’m up all the time with the children,” he said. “They did file a petition. The rules do allow it. I had to look it up myself. It says they can file it with the judge if the clerk is not available.”
As for how Lagomarsino should decide a case with national implications, he didn’t comment.
“It will be decided here like any other lawsuit,” he said.
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