Identifying and analyzing emerging trends in campaigns and elections.

A Texas-Sized Supreme Court Ruling

In Redistricting on December 12, 2011 at 12:35 pm

The US Supreme Court stayed implementation of the San Antonio federal panel’s congressional and state legislative maps on Friday, thus making it a virtual certainty that the Texas primary, currently scheduled for Super Tuesday on March 6, will be moved. The Lone Star State vote was, until Friday, the first scheduled congressional primary in the nation.

The court ordered oral arguments for map changes to be presented on Jan. 9, far beyond the Dec. 15 candidate filing deadline. With a final ruling coming in late January at the earliest, the proscribed filing period would dictate that the March 6th nominating election for the House of Representatives and the state legislature, at a minimum, will not proceed as scheduled. Therefore, the Supreme Court’s action raises as many tangential political questions as it answered.

Our PRIsm Redistricting Report tomorrow will cover the intricacies of the decision and what it means for the 2012 election, but the ramifications of what happens to the Texas primary goes far beyond changing the judicial panel’s political boundaries.

Many states have early stand-alone primaries for President and return later in the year to nominate candidates for Congress and state and local office. Texas, however, scheduled all of their races for Super Tuesday, with a run-off on May 22. The latter date now becomes the leading scheduling option for the new primary. State Attorney General Greg Abbott argued for such in his brief to the high court. Should the May date be chosen, it is likely that any required run-off would occur sometime in June.

So, what happens next and who decides? Now that the Supreme Court has, at least temporarily, removed redistricting jurisdiction from the San Antonio three-judge panel, we know that they will have no role in setting the primary. The Supreme Court or the legislature and governor will have the ultimate scheduling authority.

The next question is: will the primary be bifurcated? Theoretically, delegate selection for president could still move forward on March 6; ditto for the US Senate and local campaigns. A second primary could be then scheduled at a later time for the US House of Representatives and the state legislature. Since no money has been budgeted for an additional primary, this option would require action from the state legislature and governor or, at least, from the Legislative Budget Board (consisting of the governor, lieutenant governor, and Speaker of the House), the body that makes financial decisions while the legislature is not in session.

Meanwhile, presidential candidate and Texas Gov. Rick Perry finds himself in an interesting position. He has the power to call the legislature into special session to either move the primary or appropriate the necessary funds to conduct another election.

Perry himself could benefit greatly from moving the entire Texas primary to May, assuming he is still alive in the presidential contest after the early states vote. According to Republican National Committee rules, states may invoke a winner-take-all option if the nominating event is held post-Super Tuesday, so altering the date of the primary, which would allow the nominating system to change, obviously helps the governor since Texas has the second-largest contingent of delegates (155) to the Republican National Convention.

The primary scheduling decision greatly affects another person, too: Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst is the leading candidate for the Republican US Senate nomination. The earlier primary date favors him because polls show he has a chance to win the nomination outright on March 6. Delaying the vote for more than two months would give his top opponents, Dallas ex-Mayor Tom Leppert and Texas former Solicitor General Ted Cruz, more time to mount stronger challenges to Dewhurst and potentially force him into a run-off election.

As you can see, the Supreme Court is affecting much more than Texas redistricting with its decision to stay map implementation. In the end, when will the Texas congressional primary be held? Right now, we can be assured it will be on a date other than March 6. Beyond that, stay tuned.

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