AUSTIN — Computer files discovered in the home of a Republican operative who died last year contain a blueprint for how the GOP could extend its domination of legislatures in states where growing Latino populations favor Democrats and offer compelling context about a related case currently before the U.S. Supreme Court.
The files from North Carolina redistricting expert Tom Hofeller include detailed calculations that lay out gains Republicans would see in Texas by basing legislative districts on the number of voting-age citizens rather than the total population. But he said that would be possible only if the Census asked every household about its members' immigration status for the first time since 1950.
The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on that question as early as next month. But Republicans who support adding the citizenship question have rarely acknowledged any partisan political motive. The emergence of the documents now could figure heavily in the case the court is considering.
To civil liberties lawyers suing to block the question, it's now clear that partisan politics were at work all along. They assert in court filings that Hofeller not only laid out the political benefit for the GOP but also ghost-wrote a U.S. Department of Justice letter calling on the Census Bureau to add an immigration question to next year's survey.
The Justice Department denied the allegations in a statement on Thursday, saying Hofeller's Texas analysis "played no role in the Department's December 2017 request to reinstate a citizenship question to the 2020 decennial census." In that 2017 letter, Justice said it needed citizenship information to protect the
voting rights of minorities.
The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on the citizenship question in April and is expected to rule by July whether it will be allowed.
"What it would result in is outrageously overpopulated and underpopulated districts," said Matt Angle, a Democratic redistricting strategist, adding that the resulting maps would harm Texas' booming Hispanic population with the aim of benefiting Republicans.
Many of the state's top Republicans, including Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, have publicly expressed support for a citizenship question on the Census. On Friday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's office did not respond to questions about whether he would endorse using citizenship data to draw new maps, although a spokeswoman said last year that the Census question would provide greater transparency and was dismissive of fears of under-reporting.
Opponents contend that many noncitizens and their relatives will shy away from being counted, fearing that law enforcement will be told of individuals' citizenship status. That could cause undercounts in places with large Latino populations, including parts of Texas, California, Florida and Arizona, and could cost them seats in Congress as well as federal funding.
But the political impact of the citizenship question could go beyond an undercount if states use citizenship information to draw the maps for state legislative districts. The concept was introduced in legislation over the last few years in Missouri and Nebraska, where the state constitution already calls for excluding "aliens" from its apportionment. And Alabama has sued the federal government saying it should supply citizenship information.
In Texas, Hofeller calculated in his report that about a half-dozen Latino-dominated districts would disappear, including a portion of one in the Dallas area, up to two in Houston's Harris County and two or three in the border counties of South Texas. "A switch to the use of citizen voting age population as the redistricting population base for redistricting would be advantageous to Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites," he wrote.
There's a question of whether the switch would be legal.
The U.S. Constitution specifies that congressional districts should be based on how many people — not citizens — live there. But it's murkier for many state legislative districts.
The case at the heart of Hofeller's 2015 report was brought by Texas voters who contended it was unfair that noncitizens and minors were counted in making legislative districts because it gave a bigger voice to a smaller number of eligible voters in places with a lot of noncitizens and children. In response, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2016 that states could not be forced to use voting-age citizens as the basis for districting.
Justice Clarence Thomas agreed with that decision but wrote a separate opinion that seems to invite states to do it on their own. "It instead leaves states significant leeway in apportioning their own districts to equalize total population, to equalize eligible voters, or to promote any other principle consistent with a republican form of government," Thomas wrote.
If a state tried to use a limited population count for redistricting, a lawsuit would be likely.
"They're always trying to argue that only citizens should be counted for drawing the lines. They think it's to their advantage," said Luis Vera, a San Antonio-based lawyer for the League of United Latin American Citizens who has spent decades in court with the state over redistricting battles and said he'd sue if Texas switched to citizen-based districts.
Justin Levitt, a constitutional law professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said lawmakers may be reluctant to change which count is used for redistricting knowing they'd face legal challenges.
He said that even if a switch could be approved under a state constitution, it could run afoul of the federal Voting Rights Act, which bars state and local governments from restricting equal voting access based on race.
But Rogelio Saenz, a sociologist at the University of Texas-San Antonio, said he expects it will be considered in Texas, where Democrats picked up 12 seats in the House last year, now giving them 67 of the 150.
"The Republican Party is really anxious to gain back those few seats they lost in the last election," Saenz said.
IMPROVING BIRTH OUTCOMES
Part 1: A Tyler woman's account of losing a child due to preeclampsia
Part 2: A Bullard woman's account of a misdiagnosed miscarriage
Part 3: How Glory Babies grief support group is helping parents who have lost infants or babies in utero
Part 4: How doulas are helping women be intentional about their birth experience
Part 5: How health care providers are implementing new programs to improve maternal outcomes
Part 6: How men are learning to be more involved in parenting starting from conception
The McClendon House is still revealing its stories.
Built in 1878, the two-story home at 806 W. Houston St. holds furnishings and items dating back to the early 1800s that belonged to the influential and politically active family who lived there.
Sarah McClendon (1910-2003), one of the first female news reporters to cover the White House, was raised there. McClendon's career in Washington spanned from presidents Roosevelt to Clinton.
The McClendon House is located on land owned by Judge M.H. Bonner, a Texas State Supreme Court associate justice from 1878 to 1882. Bonner's son-in-law and daughter, Harrison and Mattie Whitaker, built the house known for its fine furnishings and as the site of social gatherings.
The Whitakers sold the house to Mattie's sister, Annie, and her husband, Sydney McClendon, who raised nine children there. Their youngest child was Sarah McClendon.
In 1981, two elderly family members donated the house to the Society for the Restoration and Historic Preservation of the Bonner-Whitaker-McClendon House, a nonprofit organization.
The house, a well-preserved example of Victorian-inspired architecture, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.
McClendon House Society members later learned some of the family's personal belongings were stored in several large boxes off-site, Daye Collins, a longtime board member, said.
Some of the items that had been stored are now on display in a new exhibit
in the Archives Room on the second floor.
"These items have never been seen (by the public) before," Collins said.
The exhibit covers the period after World War I, when Sydney and Annie McClendon lived in the house, and includes clothing worn by the women and cases filled with photographs, letters and documents.
It is a follow-up to a previous exhibit on the family during the war.
"This picks the story up where the other one left off," Collins said. "It was a changing world."
The exhibit draws attention to the work of Sydney as Democratic Party chairman in Smith County and Annie as an enthusiastic suffragette who took part in "Votes for Women" rallies, Collins said.
Photos show some of the McClendon daughters wearing the more revealing flapper-style dressers. Letters and papers chronicle the sons advancing post-war professional interests.
"This was what was going all over the United States," Collins said.
Collins said items recovered from storage shed new light on experiences of the family and their contributions to society.
"We are still uncovering things (from the boxes)," Collins said.
There is enough new material to keep putting together exhibits chronicling the family's lives through future decades, she said.
The McClendon House is open for tours from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each Friday and Saturday. Group tours are arranged by calling 903-592-3533. Money from the tours is used to preserve the home.
Just before Valentine's Day, a tiger was found in an abandoned Houston home by a person who went into the house to use drugs.
Now the tiger has a new name and home at the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch in Murchison. He's gone from a cage where he could barely move around into an enclosure with room to run, play and live his best life.
The sanctuary is nestled away in the country off of U.S. Highway 31 between Tyler and Athens. It covers 1,400 acres, where care is given to more than 800 animals from 40 different species, most from abused or neglected backgrounds.
Director Noelle Almrud said species include everything from horses, donkeys and sheep to an Asian water bison, tigers and chimpanzees.
"They've been discarded or were no longer wanted and we provide stable homes for them for the rest of their lives," Almrud said. "Our goal is to provide them the best quality of life for as long as they have."
After taking permanent possession of the tiger, the sanctuary held a naming contest that drew almost 1,500 votes. He is now known as Loki.
"He's very curious, but very timid," Almrud said. "He is checking out his new environment, getting comfortable with his digs, and we're happy to have him here."
The sanctuary also recently took possession of an 18-year-old neglected camel named Bubba. Bubba had been so severely malnourished that his body had metabolized the fat stored in both of his humps.
The sanctuary is not set up like a traditional zoo, but it does offer private guided educational bus tours a few times each month.
The nonprofit, which is operated by the Fund for Animals and partnered with the Humane Society of the United States, also has volunteer opportunities available.
"We are always looking for volunteers to help support the work we do," Almrud said. "We are currently in an expansion phase to build new habitats for bears and tigers, like Loki."
Almrud said the staff strives to create authentic and enriching environments. Whether it is the large, wooded enclosure for the tigers and bears or the primate habitats incor-
porating climbing and play areas for the animals.
Almrud said the total cost of caring for a single tiger runs about $25,000 per year, which includes vet care, trained staff and food.
The sanctuary is completely donor-driven. Volunteers can donate time, money or enrichment items for the animals.
It was founded in 1979 by Cleveland Amory, a renowned author and animal activist.
For more information, visit fundforanimals.org/blackbeauty/.
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