(Updates with arguments in third paragraph.)
Nov. 2 (Bloomberg) -- Texas and the U.S. clashed in court over whether new election maps for congressional and state assembly districts discriminate against Hispanic voters.
Lawyers for Texas urged a panel of federal judges in Washington today to sign off on the state’s redistricting proposal without a trial, claiming the U.S. Justice Department and other objectors are using the U.S. Voting Rights Act as “a political tool” in violation of the constitution in an effort to unseat Republicans.
“It’s impossible to argue that minority voters lack the ability to elect their candidates,” David Schenck, Texas’s deputy attorney general for legal counsel, told the three-judge panel during the hearing.
The U.S. objects to two proposed congressional districts and five state assembly districts. The plans were approved by Texas Governor Rick Perry, who is seeking the Republican nomination for president.
In a filing last week, the Justice Department said Texas “purposely manipulated” proposed congressional districts in the Dallas-Fort Worth area to decrease “current and future” minority voter strength in violation of the Voting Rights Act.
Timothy Mellett of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division asked the judges to order the case to trial, saying the government has evidence of “intentional discrimination” in the state’s election mapping.
U.S. Circuit Judge Thomas Griffith and U.S. District Judges Rosemary Collyer and Beryl Howell questioned both sides on what standards should be used to determine whether the plan complies with federal law. They didn’t say when they would rule.
“I don’t think you need to look at anything more than population demographics,” Schenck said.
Mellett of the Justice Department said voting patterns and turnout must also be considered.
Texas sued the administration of President Barack Obama in July seeking so-called pre-clearance for the state’s new maps under the Voting Rights Act, a step required of all states with a history of voting-rights violations.
The majority-Republican Legislature redrew electoral maps after the state grew enough to gain four seats in Congress, adding almost 4.3 million residents since 2000, according to the 2010 census.
In June, Perry signed the state bill containing the election map created by Texas lawmakers.
Congressional representatives whose jobs are threatened by the redistricting plan sued Perry and the state in federal court in San Antonio to block approval of the map, as did Hispanic voting-rights organizations and Travis County, which includes the capital, Austin.
The Texas case is Perez v. Perry, 5:11-cv-0360, U.S. District Court, Western District of Texas (San Antonio). The Washington case is Texas v. the U.S., 1:11-cv-01303, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).
--With assistance from Laurel Brubaker Calkins in Houston. Editors: Andrew Dunn, Peter Blumberg
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