By Paula Ann Solis
When the McLennan County Commissioners Board began planning to change district lines, they hired two lawyers they have trusted time and again with this significant task.
These two lawyers also happen to be Baylor Law School professors.
David Guinn, the Lyndon L. Olson and William A. Olson Professor of Local Government and Constitutional Law and Master Teacher, is half of the two-man team.
His partner, Michael Morrison, law professor and Boswell Chair, knows more than his fair share about county matters considering he served as Waco’s mayor from 1996 to 2000.
“They’re known nationwide for their expertise in this field,” McLennan County Judge Scott Felton said. “If we do anything with our precinct, we want to be sure we do it fairly and for the benefit of the taxpayers. That’s why we hired them.”
Felton said the county is considering reducing the number of justices of the peace and constable positions in the area due to an unequal distribution of services.
He said the current setup, composed of eight justices of the peace and constables, suffers from imbalanced service from elected officials.
Several posts, possibly four, may be cut and salaries will rise for those remaining positions, Felton said.
Guinn and Morrison were called because the county wanted to be sure it does not violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Felton said.
Section 2 forbids voting measures that may discriminate on the basis of race, color or membership in a minority group, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
A violation by the county could result in costly lawsuits.
Felton said the reputations of Guinn and Morrison made choosing legal advisers an easy process.
“Our concern, and, of course, the reason they retained us, is the federal Voting Rights Act,” Guinn said. “We have to advise the county in regards to the changes so as not to adversely affect our minority community. Changes cannot have the end result or effect of diluting minority-voting strength. We are determined that that does not take place.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, McLennan County is comprised of 14.8 percent African-Americans, 23.6 percent Hispanics and 1.4 percent Asians.
Guinn said the important thing he has to keep in mind during all of this is that Section 2 does not require intent to discriminate, merely that it is the end result.
The legal duo has worked on redistricting projects like this one for 34 years and Guinn said Morrison has done more redistricting plans than any other lawyer in Texas.
The duo has advised counties, cities, the state of Texas and the state of Arkansas on several occasions.
Guinn, known at Baylor Law School as “the Godfather,” said the workload he is experiencing right now with advising McLennan County and teaching pales in comparison to three years ago when the duo represented 38 political subdivisions in Texas and traveled the state regularly while working full days.
But that is where working as a team comes into play.
Guinn said his responsibilities for the team include keeping up-to-date on the law while Morrison is what he calls a genius with statistical analysis.
“No genius is involved,” Morrison said. “After a couple thousand, you just get real good at it.”
Morrison uses census data prepared by the U.S. Census Bureau to racially and ethnically break down the population of a given area to determine if district lines have departed from legal requirements.
Morrison said the current precinct lines do not violate any laws.
The changes are being made solely to balance workloads and to save the county money without sacrificing services to tax payers.
As far as any impediment this work may have on teaching, Morrison said it is countered by what the legal team has to offer their students in terms of experience.
“Most law students appreciate having faculty that are successfully practicing and that are in demand,” Morrison said. “I think they like knowing the people that teach them law aren’t just doing it because they don’t know how to practice law. When we get hired by the state legislature instead of UT Law across the street, I think our students like seeing that.”
Morrison said in all the years Guinn and he have advised on redistricting, they have never been challenged by the justice department if the client took the pair’s advice.
Guinn said the McLennan County court system has remained very open about the changes being made.
Before any final decision is reached, the public will have a chance to speak on the matter.
Morrison said he suspects the project to reach its final stages in three to four weeks.
The county is estimated to pay the legal duo up to $25,000 for their services.
“To be sure we do this with limited risk of a lawsuit, it’s well worth that,” Felton said.