(Updates with court filing from agreement’s opponents in fifth paragraph.)
Feb. 6 (Bloomberg) -- Texas reached an agreement with the Texas Latino Redistricting Task Force over interim maps for the districts of state and federal lawmakers, state Attorney General Greg Abbott said.
“Even though these proposed interim maps aren’t fully supported by all interest groups, modifications have been incorporated based on requests made by all parties,” Abbott said today in a statement. “Today’s maps should allow the court to finalize the interim redistricting maps in time to have elections in April.”
Three federal judges in San Antonio are creating temporary maps to replace ones drawn by the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature that have been challenged as racially gerrymandered.
The Mexican American Legislative Caucus, or MALC, a plaintiff in the case, views the maps as “a beginning point, not an end,” the group’s chairman, Trey Martinez Fischer, said in a statement. MALC won’t compromise for the sake of expediency or “be forced into a resolution that fails to recognize the fundamental fact that Texas’ growth is minority growth,” he said.
The League of United Latin American Citizens, the Texas Legislative Black Caucus, the NAACP, and U.S. Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, among others, also oppose the interim plan.
“No agreement has been reached, and none is foreseeable,” they said in a court filing today.
Gary Bledsoe, a lawyer for the black caucus, said the state’s new interim plan is problematic to blacks and too closely resembles the maps already under challenge.
“I think there’s good reason we should wait instead of trying to get five cents on the dollar,” Bledsoe said in an interview.
Late today, the San Antonio panel issued an order urging the parties to continue negotiating “to the extent possible” in the absence of a complete compromise. The court set a status conference in the matter for Feb 15.
The six-month redistricting fight has already delayed the state’s party primary elections once, knocking Texas out of the influential March 6 Super Tuesday presidential primaries. More Americans vote in primaries or caucuses on that day than on any other.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in January that interim voter maps created by the San Antonio judges last year weren’t deferential enough to maps drawn by the lawmakers. The high court told the panel to try again, using the lawmakers’ boundaries as the starting point.
If the San Antonio panel can produce new interim maps by mid-February, primaries can be held by April 17 or April 24, according to state political party leaders who testified before the court last month. If that deadline passes, the officials said, Texas’s primaries would probably be pushed to May 29, because of conflicts with municipal-election schedules.
The Legislature carved out four new U.S. Congressional districts to accommodate the 4.3 million residents the 2010 U.S. Census found the state added since 2000. Hispanics, who more often vote for Democrats than Republicans, accounted for about 65 percent of the growth. Republican Governor Rick Perry approved the maps.
In the state’s proposal submitted to the court today, two of the new congressional districts will become Latino opportunity districts, meaning they will have enough Latino voters to allow them to elect a candidate of their choice, Nina Perales, lead counsel for the task force, said in a phone call with reporters.
“Our position is that these maps could be used through 2020,” Perales said.
Latinos and lawmakers whose jobs were threatened by the Legislature’s new maps sued over claims Republicans distorted districts to prevent the election of minorities in violation of the Voting Rights Act. Republicans claimed they didn’t discriminate and are legally permitted to draw lines that favor the elected political majority.
The San Antonio judges last month urged a different federal three-judge panel in Washington to rule quickly on a lawsuit Texas brought in July seeking so-called pre-clearance for its new maps under the voting act. Approval of such changes, required for states with a history of voting-rights violations, can be obtained directly from the Justice Department or through litigation.
The U.S. objects to two proposed congressional districts and five state assembly districts.
After the Washington panel said it doesn’t anticipate a decision on pre-clearance until next month, Garcia said in a Feb. 2 order that his court won’t wait for that ruling and will announce interim maps first.
Garcia said at a hearing last month that the San Antonio panel must balance two key considerations in addition to creating voter boundaries that don’t discriminate.
The first is holding primaries early enough so that Texans’ votes count in the presidential selection process and so political parties can select delegates for their state conventions based on those primary results.
Both Republicans and Democrats are set to hold their Texas political conventions in early June, on dates and in locations committed to years ago. Texas Republican Party Chairman Steve Munisteri told the court last month the state political parties may go bankrupt if they’re forced to reschedule thousands of hotel rooms and meeting places.
The second consideration is whether to split Texas’s primaries so that the presidential primary is held in April and primaries for all other offices are held later, after new congressional and state legislative district boundaries have been made final, Garcia said.
The Texas case is Perez v. Perry, 5:11-cv-00360, U.S. District Court, Western District of Texas (San Antonio). The Washington case is Texas v. U.S., 1:11-cv-01303, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington). The appellate case is Perry v. Perez, 11-713 (Congressional map), U.S. Supreme Court.
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