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Supreme Court won’t shield Texas legislators from testifying in redistricting lawsuit

The Justice Department is seeking the testimony of three GOP legislators in a suit alleging discrimination against minorities in the state's new congressional and legislative maps.
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A worker puts a ballot into a secure box at a drive-thru mail ballot hand delivery center in Austin, Texas, on Oct. 2, 2020.Sergio Flores / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court declined Tuesday to prevent Texas state legislators from answering questions in a lawsuit over the state’s plan for drawing new congressional and legislative district boundaries.

Without explanation, as is its usual practice, the court turned away an emergency appeal from the state, which sought an order to block a federal judge from forcing three GOP members of the Texas House to appear for depositions. Their testimony is sought in a lawsuit brought by the Justice Department and civil rights groups who say the Voting Rights Act requires the state to create more districts where a majority of voters are racial minorities.

Texas said requiring three Republican members of the state House — Ryan Guillen, Brooks Landgraf and John Lujan — to answer questions in a deposition would violate the immunity and privilege long accorded to legislators. Deposing them would “probe the very inner workings of the legislative process, examining the legislators’ thoughts, impressions, and motivations for their legislative acts,” the state argued.

But the Justice Department said it routinely seeks testimony from state legislators who represent challenged districts. The legal privilege against having to testify about legislative decisions is a qualified one, the federal government said, so the state House members should be required to appear for their depositions, where they could assert the privilege in response to specific questions.

One of the three, Lujan, wasn’t even a member of the Legislature when the new district map was drawn, so his claim of a privilege is even weaker, the federal lawyers said.

Texas drew up the new district boundaries in response to the 2020 census. The Justice Department lawsuit said the state intentionally discriminated against minority voters in West Texas and the Dallas-Fort Worth area. It also said the new map had the effect of discriminating against voters in the Houston area.

The lawsuit said most of the increase in the state’s population came from Black, Latino and Asian residents. But it said the new maps scattered those voters across several districts, diluting their voting strength. The number of districts with a majority of those voters was below their percentages of the state’s overall population, the suit contended.