AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) – State Senator Kel Seliger became a key voice in one of the federal court challenges to Texas’ newly-drawn election maps Wednesday when a sworn declaration from him was used to argue that legislators broke federal law during the redistricting process.

MyHighPlains.com has continued to track the storms surrounding the new Texas maps in the past months. Here’s a look at the context of Seliger’s testimony, as well as what the ongoing court cases could mean for the 2022 elections.

The Texas Legislature and a list of lawsuits

The latest census data showed that 95% of the population growth in Texas since 2010 was through people of color, and half of the total gains were through Hispanic people. Despite that, the new Texas House map drops the number of districts in which Hispanic people make up the majority of eligible voters from 33 to 30, and the congressional map reduced the number of districts with a Hispanic voting majority from eight to seven.

Often with this disparity cited as one of the causes, as well as the constitutionality of the entire redistricting process, the census and redistricting efforts in Texas have been dotted with lawsuits against the state legislature from communities and colleagues alike.

  • September  2021 saw two Texas state senators file lawsuits that contended district maps could not be legally redrawn during a special session, which ended up the process after months of census data delays.
  • In October 2021, two federal lawsuits were filed against the redistricting efforts’ constitutionality, and the Latino civil rights group Voto Latino alongside 13 Texas voters sued to ask a Texas US District Court to overturn the new maps.
  • In November 2021, three separate lawsuits were filed by Texas lawmakers that also sought to overturn the maps, and several civil rights groups filed suit against Governor Abbott and Texas Secretary of State John Scott with the argument that the new maps were racially discriminatory.

For a number of decades, including at recently as 2017, legislators have been sued on similar bases and higher courts have found that Texas lawmakers intentionally discriminated against Hispanic and Black voters during mapmaking.

In November 2021, State Senator Kel Seliger joined those who argue that the latest redistricting in the state violated federal law.

The El Paso hearing and Kel Seliger

A panel of three federal judges in the past week has been considering one of the lawsuits aimed at the 2021 Texas redistricting maps, this case focused on the new boundaries for state Senate District 10 in the Fort Worth area. The days-long hearing has been based in El Paso, with Seliger’s testimony submitted to a district court and used in the case put forward by Tarrant County Commissioner Roy Charles Brooks, and others, against defendants including Texas Governor Greg Abbott.

Seliger’s declaration was initially filed in November 2021, according to court documents, and drew comparisons between the most recent redistricting effort and the senate map adopted by the state legislature in 2011.

As Chair of the Senate Select Redistricting Committees in 2011 and 2013, Seliger described how in 2012, another three-judge federal court panel ruled that the senate map “was racially discriminatory because it dismantled Senate District 10 (“SD10″) and cracked apart its minority communities.”

In 2013, Seliger said, his committee adopted Plan S172 after being advised by then-Attorney General Greg Abbott “to correct the racial discrimination that the federal court had found in SD10.” The plan restored SD10 to its “benchmark configuration,” as it was before the attempt at redistricting, in order to comply with the Voting Rights Act and the US Constitution’s protections against racial discrimination.

With that federal ruling as the basis for his testimony, Seliger argued that the “2021 senate redistricting process saw untrue, pretextual explanations given for why the lines were drawn the way they were.”

“For example,” Seliger continued, “I was told by Senator Huffman that my district was being changed to add many new counties around Midland and remove panhandle counties in order to create distinctive agricultural versus oil and gas districts between [Senate District 31] and [Senate District 28]. But as I explained on the Senate floor, the plan does not create distinctive agricultural and oil and gas districts. Instead, it was obvious that the purpose of these changes was to benefit a potential Republican primary challenger from Midland preferred by the Lieutenant Governor.”

The “benchmark” shape of SD10 that was in the federal court order “was compact, wholly contained within Tarrant County, and had close to ideal population,” according to Seliger. Because of that, he said he did not believe that the reasons given for how the district was redrawn in 2021 were truthful.

via Ballotpedia.Org

In the new boundaries of SD10 passed in 2021, some previously standing Black and Hispanic populations were split into districts with majority-white electorates. The voters of color that remained in SD10, mostly in urban areas of south Fort Worth, were joined with rural and mostly-white counties that effectively diminish the numbers of voters of color compared to the number of white eligible voters.

The plaintiffs in the case, including current SD10 representative State Senator Beverly Powell, are asking the federal judges to throw out the new map ahead of the March primaries.

What does this mean for the 2022 elections?

Although the new district boundaries technically don’t go into effect until January 2023, they are the boundaries that dictated which election candidates would match which district. Delays with the 2020 census data had a domino effect for the redistricting process that led to the extension of the candidate filing deadline, as well as a shuffling of election dates into their current schedule. However, some of those days – or even candidates – could be liable to change depending on the ruling of the courts.

Assistant Secretary of State for Communications Sam Taylor told MyHighPlains.com Thursday that while his office could not comment in detail on the circumstances because of its position as a defendant, the fate of the 2022 elections may be a waiting game in anticipation of court orders.

However, Taylor said that it is now too far along in the election process for the March 1 primary elections to change. Without a court order being issued, and soon, Texas voters can expect March 1 to remain as scheduled even if other changes to the elections are made afterward.

MyHighPlains.com reached out to Seliger’s office Thursday morning, and will update this article as the story develops.

For the latest information on voter registration, voting, candidates, Texas redistricting, and more, check with MyHighPlains.com.