(Updates with excerpt from order in third paragraph.)
Jan. 23 (Bloomberg) -- A federal court conference on Texas’s redistricting plan was moved up to Jan. 27 after state Attorney General Greg Abbott said the previous schedule didn’t allow time for the primary election to be held April 3.
U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia in San Antonio today said representatives of the Republican and Democratic parties should be present at the status conference set for the end of this week.
“If all the parties wish to maintain the current election schedule, they should confer and submit agreed-upon interim maps for this court’s consideration by Feb. 6,” Garcia said in a written order. “This court would not be bound by any such agreement but would take it into careful consideration in announcing interim plans.”
The U.S. Supreme Court on Jan. 20 threw out judge-drawn voting districts for this year’s state and federal elections in Texas in a ruling that may help Republicans keep control of the U.S. House of Representatives. The justices unanimously told a lower court panel comprised of Garcia and two other judges to create maps more similar to the Republican-controlled state Legislature’s plan.
Texas Governor Rick Perry, a Republican, asked the panel to speed up its re-consideration to avoid “further delay of Texas’s primary elections,” according to Abbott’s filing today, which noted that the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled on the issue in just 11 days. The only explanation for the high court’s “quick ruling is that it wanted this court to have the opportunity to create new interim maps before February 1, 2012, in order to avoid further delays in the primary elections,” Perry’s lawyers said. “There is no reason this court cannot complete that task in time.”
Garcia said in today’s order that, if the parties cannot agree on interim maps, they should indicate which districts on the Legislature’s enacted maps they no longer object to in light of the Supreme Court’s decision. The judge also said he will again consider the possibility of splitting the primary, with the Republican presidential contest on April 3 and state races at a later date.
In December, the judge ordered that all primary elections would be held April 3, rather than on March 6, Super Tuesday, after state Republicans and Democrats struck a deal to avoid multiple primaries.
The dispute stems from maps drawn last year by the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature after the 2010 census. Perry, until last week a candidate for president, signed the maps into law. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Jan. 20 that federal judges in Texas overstepped their authority by drawing up interim voting plans.
“The court understands that the attorney general and lieutenant governor and other representatives of the state Legislature would like to have a unified primary on April 3,” Mike Walz, a spokesman for Lieutentant Governor David Dewhurst, said in a phone interview.
The case is Perez v. Perry, 5:11-cv-00360, U.S. District Court, Western District of Texas (San Antonio).
--With assistance from David Mildenberg in Austin, Texas. Editors: Peter Blumberg, Michael Hytha
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