Law professors to make it on the map

Morrison, Guinn will advise redrawing of congressional lines

By Daniel C. Houston

Two Baylor law professors will play an integral role in the process to redraw district lines in light of data released by the Census Bureau on Thursday.

The data was headlined by confirmation of a sizeable increase of Hispanic residents, whose population rose by 41.8 percent since the 2000 Census, according to the state demographer. The population of Texas increased to 25.1 million individuals, a 20.6 percent increase.

Law school professors Michael Morrison and David Guinn will serve as the primary legal advisers for the Texas Senate committee responsible for overseeing the congressional redistricting process.

“Our part in that process is, on the Senate side, to give legal opinions on the proposed lines,” Morrison said. “Usually they won’t be black-and-white; usually the opinions will involve considerable shades of gray, and the advice will be more in the nature of the possible risk associated with a certain [congressional district] line.”

Morrison, who was interviewed before the release of the census data, said his work will begin as soon as he receives the data.

“The calm before the storm is about to end,” Morrison said. “I’ve already sent out a communication to all of our clients that the census is due this week for Texas, and as soon as we have it, they’re going to be ready to start the process.”

Morrison and Guinn bring decades of experience assisting state and local agencies to comply with the federal Voting Rights Act, which prohibits these agencies from drawing new boundaries that dilute the political influence of minority ethnic groups.

They also make sure the new districts comply with what Guinn referred to as “One Person, One Vote,”: the constitutional principle that representative districts should be roughly equal in population.

Guinn, who has been working for agencies in this capacity for 32 years, has never had a redistricting proposal under his advisement shot down.

“We try to religiously adhere to the United States Supreme Court’s interpretations of the federal Voting Rights Act,” Guinn said. “We know the requirements in regard to One Person, One Vote. We know what it requires in that regard. But the politics involved, that’s strictly up to the legislature.”

While the two professors do not advise the legislature regarding the political composition of the districts, both acknowledged that legislators are often motivated to adjust the districts in order to preserve their parties’ standing at the state level.

“That’s probably one of the most fundamental laws of politics, is that those in power get to draw the lines,” Morrison said. “Now where that can have an impact is if you have an area where most of your Democrats are a minority race or ethnic community, then when you address the minority concerns you may also be addressing party concerns. But that’s really the tail wagging the dog. It’s a concern not because they’re Democrats, but because they’re a protected minority according to the Voting Rights Act.”