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Texas’s congressional primaries may be held May 29 after interim election maps delayed by a redistricting battle were approved by a panel of U.S. judges in San Antonio.
The maps were redrawn by a three-judge panel that has overseen a legal challenge brought by voting rights groups and Democratic lawmakers against new election districts created last year by the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature. Opponents claimed the Legislature’s maps were racial gerrymanders intended to prevent the election of Latinos.
“This interim plan is not a final ruling on the merits of any claims asserted” by voting rights activists in the San Antonio court challenge or a parallel lawsuit brought by the state of Texas in federal court in Washington, U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia said in a two-page ruling yesterday.
The six-month redistricting fight delayed Texas’s primary election schedule and knocked the state out of the influential Super Tuesday contests on March 6, when more voters participate in party primaries and caucuses than on any other date. Election officials had told the San Antonio panel they needed the new maps by the end of this week to hold party primaries on May 29, as the judges requested.
Texas gained four new Congressional districts to accommodate 4.3 million new residents added since 2000, according to the 2010 U.S. Census. Hispanics, who more often vote for Democrats than Republicans, accounted for about 65 percent of the growth. Republican Governor Rick Perry approved the maps, which provided no new districts that favored the election of Latinos, according to opponents of the state’s maps.
Opponents challenged the state’s maps in San Antonio federal court, while Texas filed its own lawsuit in federal court in Washington seeking “pre-clearance” of the Republican maps by the Justice Department. All states with a history of voting rights violations must obtain such approval before the maps can be used in an election, according to provisions of the Voting Rights Act.
“The interim Congressional redistricting plan complies with the mandates of the Voting Rights Act by creating two additional Latino-majority Congressional Districts,” Nina Perales, lead attorney for the Latino Redistricting Task Force, said yesterday in an e-mailed statement. “This litigation has achieved what the State of Texas failed to include in its legislatively enacted Congressional redistricting plan -- districts that recognize the significant population growth of Latinos in Texas.”
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said the interim districts are “a substantial improvement from maps previously issued by the San Antonio court.”
“As a result of the U.S. Supreme Court’s unanimous, clear direction to the district court, these new interim maps more accurately reflect the decisions of elected Texas legislators,” Abbott said yesterday in an e-mailed statement.
Abbott said the San Antonio court’s interim Congressional map only modified districts that were challenged by the activists. An earlier version issued by the court was declared by the U.S. Supreme Court to be not deferential enough to lawmakers.
“In doing so, the court properly rejected the demands by some plaintiffs to draw drastic and over-reaching interim maps,” Abbott 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-1303, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington). The appellate case is Perry v. Perez, 11A536 (Congressional map), U.S. Supreme Court.
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