Last week’s ruling by a three-judge panel in San Antonio that the Texas Legislature racially discriminated in drawing three congressional districts is being hailed as a major civil rights triumph in some legal quarters. “This is a huge victory for voting rights plaintiffs,” wrote nationally recognized elections law expert Richard Hasen in his Election Law blog. He predicted the 2-1 decision was unlikely to be overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court because “it closely tracks Justice (Anthony) Kennedy’s views of the issues in this area.”
Kennedy is often the swing vote on the closely divided court. Hasen said the ruling was especially important because it could lead to Texas once again being required to preclear redistricting and other election matters with the Justice Department, as it was before the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013. This is because Judges Xavier Rodriguez and Orlando Garcia found intentional discrimination in the case.
The Justice Department under Attorney General Jeff Sessions is not likely to be much of a watchdog on voting rights matters, but that would likely change if a Democratic president is elected in 2020. The three judges who decided the case include one Democrat and two Republicans. Ironically, the decision may have gone the other way if one of the judges hadn’t been punished for joining in an earlier ruling in the case. Here’s the backstory.
Judge Rodriguez, a graduate of Harvard University and the University of Texas law school, was appointed to the Texas Supreme Court by Gov. Rick Perry. He lost in the Republican primary, however, when he had to stand for election. He returned briefly to private practice before being appointed to a federal district bench here by President George W. Bush.
Back in 2013, Rodriguez was asked to fill out the voluminous paperwork to be considered for promotion to the 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. President Barack Obama had selected a Democratic judge from Corpus Christi, but the two Republican senators reportedly made it clear they would block her nomination. So the Obama administration lit on Rodriguez — a nonideological choice who had been appointed to important benches by two Texas Republican leaders.