|News Media Update||TEXAS||Freedom of Information|
Department of Justice refuses to reveal redistricting memo
- The Justice Department announced that it will not disclose an internal memo about a Republican plan to redraw Texas congressional districts that favor the GOP.
Feb. 5, 2004 — The U.S. Department of Justice formally declined last month to release a lengthy internal memo and other documents that detail the Republican-led congressional redistricting effort in Texas — an effort that led Democratic legislators at one point to hide out so that a majority could not vote on the redistricting.
Citing an exemption to the federal FOI Act for “predecisional deliberative material,” the department on Jan. 6 told a group of Texas Democrats that the 74-page memo and 1,750 pages of related documents will not be released to Congress or the public.
Texas Democrats have argued that the redistricted map violates the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by eliminating two districts in which minorities constitute a majority of voters. Minorities in Texas have historically voted for Democrats in elections.
J. Gerald Hebert, lead counsel for the Democrats and a former Justice Department staff attorney, appealed the FOI denial to the department’s Office of Information and Privacy. Hebert said that department staff “independently verified” that political appointees overruled objections by departmental career attorneys who recommended against implementing the redistricted map because of potential Voting Rights Act violations.
“Unfortunately, the political appointees of the Justice Department appear committed to dismantling the Voting Rights Act,” Hebert wrote in his appeal. “They are hiding this report because it will make their intentions clear.”
Hebert added that the department was “stonewalling this request to avoid the embarrassment that will surely ensue when the memorandum is made public.”
The Washington Post reported that the department issued a gag order in October prohibiting discussion of the memorandum. Hebert said the order is without precedent. “For the first time in history that I am aware of, department lawyers are not allowed to talk to each other.”
On Jan. 6, the U.S. District Court in Marshall, Texas, voted 2-1 along party lines to uphold the new map of congressional districts. Ten days later, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to grant a stay, although the Court indicated it could later consider a full hearing on the Voting Rights Act complaints.
The ruling means that the redistricted maps will be in effect during the 2004 election cycle, with the earliest possible date for change coming in 2006.
Presently, Texas’ U.S. House delegation is split nearly evenly between the two parties. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram has predicted that under the new map, the 17-15 Republican edge would likely become a 22-10 GOP advantage.
(Richard Vieth et. al. v. Robert C. Jubelirer; Counsel: J. Gerald Hebert, Alexandria, Va.) — AB
© 2004 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press