Abbott v. Mexican American Legislative Caucus, Texas House of Representatives, 22-0008

CourtSupreme Court of Texas
Citation647 S.W.3d 681
Docket Number22-0008
Parties Greg ABBOTT, in His Official Capacity as Governor of the State of Texas; John Scott, in His Official Capacity as Secretary of State of Texas; and the State of Texas, Appellants, v. MEXICAN AMERICAN LEGISLATIVE CAUCUS, TEXAS HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES; Roland Gutierrez ; Sarah Eckhardt; Ruben Cortez, Jr.; and Tejano Democrats, Appellees
Decision Date24 June 2022

647 S.W.3d 681

Greg ABBOTT, in His Official Capacity as Governor of the State of Texas; John Scott, in His Official Capacity as Secretary of State of Texas; and the State of Texas, Appellants,
v.
MEXICAN AMERICAN LEGISLATIVE CAUCUS, TEXAS HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES; Roland Gutierrez ; Sarah Eckhardt; Ruben Cortez, Jr.; and Tejano Democrats, Appellees

No. 22-0008

Supreme Court of Texas.

Argued March 23, 2022
OPINION DELIVERED: June 24, 2022


Joaquin Gonzalez, Austin, George (Tex) Quesada, Sean Joseph McCaffity, Dallas, for Appellee Mexican American Legislative Caucus, Texas House of Representatives.

Wallace B. Jefferson, Austin, for Appellees Cortez, Junior, Rueben, Eckhardt, Sarah, Gutierrez, Roland, Tejano Democrats.

Judd E. Stone II, Jack DiSorbo, Christopher Hilton, Kathleen Hunker, Patrick K. Sweeten, Austin, Eric A. Hudson, Lanora Pettit, Courtney B. Corbello, William Cole, William Thompson, Brent Webster, Houston, Ken Paxton, for Appellants.

Wolfgang P. Hirczy De Miño PhD, Pro Se.

Justice Lehrmann delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Justice Devine, Justice Busby, Justice Bland, Justice Huddle, and Justice Young joined.

Two sets of plaintiffs—the Mexican American Legislative Caucus (MALC) and a group of plaintiffs we and the parties refer to as the Gutierrez Plaintiffs—sued various State defendants claiming that the recently enacted laws reapportioning Texas's legislative districts violate Article III, Sections 26 and 28 of the Texas Constitution. Those now-consolidated cases come to us on direct appeal of the trial court's order largely denying the defendants' pleas to the jurisdiction. The defendants challenge jurisdiction on multiple grounds, including mootness, lack of standing, and sovereign immunity. We hold: (1) the claims are not moot; (2) MALC lacks associational standing to pursue its claims; (3) at least one of the Gutierrez Plaintiffs has standing to pursue each claim against a proper defendant, but not the State of

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Texas; (4) the Gutierrez Plaintiffs' Section 26 claim is not barred by sovereign immunity; (5) the Gutierrez Plaintiffs' Section 28 claim is barred by sovereign immunity; and (6) the Gutierrez Plaintiffs should have the opportunity to replead their Section 26 claim against a proper defendant. We reverse the trial court's order in part, dismiss MALC's claims and the Gutierrez Plaintiffs' Section 28 claim for lack of jurisdiction, and remand the case to the trial court.

I. Background

Under federal law, the U.S. Census Bureau is required to release a census of the population on the first day of April every ten years. 13 U.S.C. § 141(a). Texas uses this data to reapportion its legislative districts in accordance with the United States and Texas Constitutions. See Reynolds v. Sims , 377 U.S. 533, 577, 84 S.Ct. 1362, 12 L.Ed.2d 506 (1964) (holding that "the Equal Protection Clause requires that a State make an honest and good faith effort to construct districts, in both houses of its legislature, as nearly of equal population as is practicable"); TEX. CONST. art. III, § 28 ("The Legislature shall, at its first regular session after the publication of each United States decennial census, apportion the state into senatorial and representative districts, agreeable to the provisions of Sections 25 and 26 ...."); id. art. III, § 26 (governing apportionment of legislative districts among counties).

In 2021, the COVID-19 pandemic caused the Census Bureau to miss the April 1 deadline for release of the data from the 2020 census, and the Bureau published that data on September 16, 2021. In the meantime, the Texas Legislature's 87th regular session ran from January 12, 2021, to May 31, 2021, and thus concluded several months before the data's release. On September 7, 2021, Governor Greg Abbott called a special session of the Legislature to commence on September 20 and specifically address reapportionment.

During that special (third called) session, the Legislature passed H.B. 1 and S.B. 4, the two bills that reapportioned the districts for the Texas House and Senate, respectively. The Governor signed the bills into law on October 25. One of the complaints at issue relates to the manner in which H.B. 1 adjusts the House districts within Cameron County. Under the old map, House Districts 37 and 38 were wholly contained within Cameron County, and House District 35 was shared between Cameron and Hidalgo Counties. Under the new law, District 38 remains wholly contained within Cameron County and District 35 remains shared between Cameron and Hidalgo Counties, but District 37 is now shared between Cameron and Willacy Counties.

As relevant here, two lawsuits challenging the reapportionment laws were filed. First, on November 3, 2021, the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, Texas House of Representatives (MALC), "the nation's oldest and largest Latino legislative caucus," sued Governor Abbott and Secretary of State John Scott in their official capacities, challenging the constitutionality of H.B. 1. MALC alleged that H.B. 1 violates the so-called "county line rule" in Article III, Section 26 of the Texas Constitution by providing only one district wholly contained within Cameron County even though the county's population is sufficient to support two such districts. MALC sought a declaration that H.B. 1 violates Section 26 and requested temporary and permanent injunctions "enjoining the administration and oversight of upcoming primary and general elections" under the unconstitutional law. The Governor and Secretary petitioned the Chief Justice of this Court to convene a special three-judge

647 S.W.3d 688

district court to hear the case. See TEX. GOV'T CODE § 22A.001(a)(2) (authorizing the attorney general to file such a petition in a suit against a state defendant involving the apportionment of certain electoral districts). That petition was granted, and the case was transferred to the three-judge court.

Shortly thereafter, on November 22, 2021, a second lawsuit regarding the reapportionment laws was filed—this time against the State of Texas—by two state senators (Roland Gutierrez and Sarah Eckhardt), a candidate for House District 37 (Ruben Cortez Jr.), and the Tejano Democrats (collectively, the "Gutierrez Plaintiffs"). The Gutierrez Plaintiffs similarly alleged that H.B. 1 violates Article III, Section 26, and they further alleged that both H.B. 1 and S.B. 4 violate Article III, Section 28 because they were enacted before, rather than "at," the "first regular session after the publication of [the] United States decennial census." The Gutierrez Plaintiffs requested a declaration that H.B. 1 and S.B. 4 are unconstitutional and sought to enjoin their implementation. The three-judge district court transferred the second-filed suit to itself and consolidated the causes. Id. § 22A.003(b).

The two sets of defendants filed pleas to the jurisdiction. The Governor and Secretary argued that MALC lacked standing because it had not established that the new House map injured MALC or any of its members. They further argued that MALC failed to plead a viable claim on the merits and thus failed to establish a waiver of sovereign immunity. The State similarly argued that the Gutierrez Plaintiffs lacked standing and that their claims were barred by sovereign immunity.1

The trial court held a combined evidentiary hearing on the pleas to the jurisdiction and the plaintiffs' motions for temporary injunctive relief. As to MALC's claims, the trial court denied the Governor and Secretary's plea and denied MALC's motion. As to the Gutierrez Plaintiffs' claims, the trial court granted the State's plea with respect to the claims for injunctive relief, dismissing those claims, and denied the plea with respect to the claims for declaratory relief. Thus, what remains pending after the trial court's order are both sets of plaintiffs' claims for declaratory relief and MALC's request for a permanent injunction.

On December 7, 2021, the defendants filed a direct appeal to this Court of the trial court's order on the pleas to the jurisdiction. See TEX. CIV. PRAC. & REM. CODE § 51.014(a)(8) (authorizing an interlocutory appeal from an order that grants or denies a plea to the jurisdiction by a governmental unit); TEX. GOV'T CODE § 22A.006(a) ("An appeal from an appealable interlocutory order or final judgment of a special three judge district court is to the supreme court.").2 In their response to the defendants' statement of jurisdiction in this Court, the plaintiffs stated that they were not "ask[ing] this Court to disturb the current election cycle at this point in the litigation and in light of the Court's opinion in In re Khanoyan ," in which this Court explained the judicial limitations on issuing relief that would disrupt an ongoing election process. See 637 S.W.3d 762, 764–66 (Tex. 2022). The plaintiffs further requested expedited consideration of the

647 S.W.3d 689

case to "allow the parties time to litigate the constitutionality of the 2021 maps in time for the 2023 regular legislative session." We granted the appeal.

The defendants argue that the district court erred in denying their pleas to the jurisdiction and present three overarching grounds for reversal: (1) the plaintiffs seek an improper advisory opinion...

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1 practice notes
  • Texas Department of State Health Services v. Crown Distributing LLC, 21-1045
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Texas
    • June 24, 2022
    ...as a starting point, the question of how the phrases had evolved by 1876. And if the Fourteenth Amendment ends up as the end-all-be-all 647 S.W.3d 681 of the due-course clause, then there is substantial scholarship there, too.27 Of course, it is not scholarship per se that matters—what matt......
4 cases
  • Texas Department of State Health Services v. Crown Distributing LLC, 21-1045
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Texas
    • June 24, 2022
    ...as a starting point, the question of how the phrases had evolved by 1876. And if the Fourteenth Amendment ends up as the end-all-be-all 647 S.W.3d 681 of the due-course clause, then there is substantial scholarship there, too.27 Of course, it is not scholarship per se that matters—what matt......
  • Oncor Elec. Delivery Co. NTU v. Mills Cent. Appraisal Dist., 03-21-00027-CV
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Texas
    • December 6, 2022
    ...the Appraisal District's plea "based solely on the pleadings." Abbott v. Mexican Am. Legis. Caucus, Tex. House of Representatives, 647 S.W.3d 681, 689 (Tex. 2022); see also Woodway Drive LLC v. Harris Cnty. Appraisal Dist., 311 S.W.3d 649, 652 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 2010, no pet.) ......
  • State v. Aktiengesellschaft, 21-0130
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Texas
    • November 18, 2022
    ...Caucus, this Court considered the distinction between the State and the Governor for purposes of identifying the proper defendant. 647 S.W.3d 681, 698 (Tex. 2022) ("[C]laims . . . may be brought against the relevant governmental entity." (emphasis added)). We determined that the State was n......
  • Loya v. Hickory Trail Hosp., 05-20-00378-CV
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Texas
    • November 30, 2022
    ...an advisory opinion, which we have no jurisdiction to render. Abbott v. Mexican Am. Legislative Caucus, Tex. House of Representatives, 647 S.W.3d 681, 689 (Tex. 2022); see also AEP Tex. N. Co. v. SPA Pipe, Inc., No. 03-06-00122-CV, 2008 WL 5210919, at *5, n.8 (Tex. App.- Austin Dec. 12, 200......

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