Texas GOP attempts to redistrict state’s appellate court system after 2018’s blue wave put record amount of Democrats on the bench
AUSTIN, Texas–The Texas Senate’s Jurisprudence Committee held a hearing Thursday on Senate Bill 11, which would restructure the state appellate court system from 14 courts to seven districts. Under SB11, the restructured seven appellate courts would be overseen by benches that vary in size from four justices in the proposed Lubbock and Amarillo district to 21 justices in a mega district that combines the Houston and Lake Jackson district. Some of the restructured districts would be so massive they would extend 500 miles apart.
The courts are not part of the 10-year redistricting cycle tied to the U.S. Census. There is no legal reason to restructure the state’s appellate court system.
Judges, lawyers and advocates testified during the hearing at the State Capitol that the bill would cause greater confusion, decrease representation and dilute the votes of minority voters, especially Hispanic, Texans.
For example, the districts proposed in SB11 would require five justices, all of whom are Latina, to be designated to different courthouses from where they currently sit. All new designations to a courthouse would expire in 2022 and be filled by district wide elections in the newly created districts in the 2022 election.
Why is that important? Since the 2018 general election, Democratic justices have increasingly won against incumbent Republicans and ousted them from Texas appellate benches in record numbers, largely concentrated in urban population centers.
By introducing SB11, Texas Republicans are taking a page out of the old GOP playbook, intending to dilute the Democratic vote in what many have called the worst case of gerrymandering in the history of the Texas judicial system.
Justice Sarah Beth Landau of Houston’s First Court of Appeals stated in her testimony at the hearing Thursday that, “We are in a situation here with Senate Bill 11 where a patient has presented with a hangnail and the recommended treatment is amputation at the shoulder and reattachment on the other side.”
Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa issued a statement:
“Texas Republicans know that their days of wielding power are numbered and are blatantly engaging in voter suppression and gerrymandering to guarantee that Texas is the hardest place in the country to vote in. The Texas GOP isn’t even hiding their intentions with HB6, SB7 and SB11. All Texans should be enraged at the fact that Republican lawmakers are trying to cancel their vote and their voice for the upcoming elections next year. Texas Democrats will fight back to ensure Texans will not be silenced and that they have true leadership and representation.”