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FEATURES Once More Unto the Maps BY DAVID RICHARDS Texas has been at the center of constitutional voting rights litigation for seventy years. In 1926, the Supreme Court held unconstitutional a Texas statute that barred blacks from voting in the Democratic primary. Virtually every decade since then has produced landmark federal decisions addressing deprivation of minority voting rights, including banning the racially exclusive “jay bird” primary in the 1950s, and voiding the poll tax in the 1960s. ne of the country’s most significant voting cases was the 1972 decision in White v. Regester, which eliminated at-large legislative districts in Dallas and Bexar Counties and spawned single-member districts throughout the states of the South. The decision ultimately provided the undergirding for Section Two of the Voting Rights Act, which has been one paramount source of voting litigation in recent years. The majority opinion in Regester was co-authored by Justice Irving Goldberg of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals and by District Judge William Wayne Justice. The resulting single-member legislative districts in Texas produced during the 1970s, among others, such Democratic stalwarts as Paul Ragsdale and Eddie Bernice Johnson of Dallas, Matt Garcia and G. J. Sutton of Bexar County, and Ben Reyes and Craig Washington of Harris County. Single-member districts exist throughout most of the cities and school boards of Texas today, and they have contributed mightily to the expansion of minority office holders throughout Texas. This bit of history leads us to the next level of inquiry. Once you have an individual district, the questions become: how are the district lines to be drawn, and what impact will the lines have upon minority voting representation? Line-drawing issues have preoccupied the courts since the 1970s, and line-drawing issues were at the heart of the Supreme Court’s recent decision voiding congressional district lines in Dallas and Harris Counties. In striking down the Dallas congressional lines, the Supreme Court decided to apply “strict scrutiny” whenever it is established that “legitimate districting principles were subordinated to race.” Strict scrutiny would not apply “merely because redistricting is performed with consciousness of race.” Although this may sound arcane, in lawyer’s jargon, if strict scrutiny is invoked against you, you losefor virtually nothing survives strict scrutiny analysis. No one should be particularly shocked by this Supreme Court decision, which may put a halt to what had become the policy of the Reagan/Bush Justice Departments: to polarize Southern voters against the Democratic Party by requiring affirmative racial gerrymandering \(and thereby to greatly diminish or eliminate DemoA look at Texas electoral history may reduce the anguish caused by the preceding remarks. When the 1980 census was published, Bill Clements was governor of Texas, and Jim Mattox was the congressman from the 5th Former Governor Clements and friend Alan Pogue Congressional District of Dallas. As the 1981 legislative redistricting session approached, Governor Clements began to express a remarkable, and previously unarticulated, concern for the black voters of Dallas County. The Governor announced that he would veto any congressional redistricting plan that did not create a minority/black-dominated congressional district in Dallas County. The districting plan ultimately presented by the Governor destroyed the Mattox congressional seat, creating a white Republican seat, and converted Congressman Martin Frost’s congressional district into the Governor’s so-called minority congressional district. The Governor’ s legislative leader and architect of the plan, Senator John Wilson of LaGrange, testified that in re-drawing congressional district lines in Dallas County, he attempted to corral every minority voter into the 24th Congressional District. Minority legislators in the Texas House of Representatives were virtually unanimous in their opposition to the Governor’s congressional re-apportionment plan. Among the most outspoken opponents were then-Representatives Ragsdale, Washington, and Garcia. Governor Clements prevailed; his congressional plan was AUGUST 16, 1996 6 THE TEXAS OBSERVER