Federal courts inch closer to deciding fate of Texas redistricting maps

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October 28, 2011

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By Jimmy Ardis

Texas: Texas' legal battles over redistricting, which are playing out in two federal courts, inched closer to conclusions this week. With election deadlines looming, every day that passes without legal resolution increases political uncertainty over the 2012 elections. Judgements are set to be delivered in both cases next week.

In Washington DC on Tuesday the Department of Justice filed detailed briefs in Texas' Voting Rights Act preclearance case, arguing that the Republican-drawn US Congressional and State House maps were discriminatory and retrogressive - meaning they reduce minority voter's ability to elect candidates of choice. Claims that the maps robbed minorities of proportionate voting power have been the center of controversy from the beginning of this round of redistricting.[1]

The DOJ's briefs claim that "discriminatory intent permeated the congressional redistricting process, based on a broad array of circumstantial evidence...The United States contends that a purpose of the proposed State House redistricting plan is to eliminate the minority communities' ability to elect their candidate of choice in districts won by candidates not preferred by the minority voters in the watershed 2010 election."[1] Texas unsurprisingly disagreed with the DOJ's take and stood behind the maps. A spokesperson for Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott's office responded to the briefs saying ""Despite their outrageous claims, if one looks behind DOJ's inflammatory rhetoric, they produce no genuine evidence of discrimination...Ironically, DOJ is objecting to districts that the Legislature specifically enacted to protect Hispanic incumbents - who happen to be Republicans - in the same manner that the Legislature worked to protect incumbents of both parties."[1] While the DOJ's filings have significant influence, the end decision rests with the judges of the panel, who have are set to deliver their judgement on Wednesday.

Meanwhile back in Texas, the San Antonio federal panel presiding over Texas' consolidated redistricting case over the constitutionality of the state's maps is scheduled to review recently submitted interim map proposals on Monday. The court is drawing interim maps to preemptively mitigate against further time delays and hinderances to the 2012 election deadlines resulting from not having legal districts. Parties in the case submitted proposals for how they think the lines should be drawn to the court last week; objections to those plans were due to the court on Monday. The San Antonio court plans to hear the proposals on Monday and then break until Thursday in anticipation of the judgement in the DC case, which is scheduled for Wednesday.[2] If the courts rule in line with the Department of Justice, and it certainly seems to be leaning that way, Halloween could be particularly scary for Texas Republicans this year.

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