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Texas redistricting battle continues this week

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An acrimonious Texas redistricting battle continues this week even after a state trial ended in San Antonio with lawyers for the Texas attorney general’s office accusing minority groups and Democratic state politicians of attempting to manipulate the Voting Rights Act.

Texas grew more than 20% during the past decade, the fastest of any state in the nation, adding about 5 million people, according to census figures highlighted by the Texas Tribune, among others. The majority of that growth, about 89%, came from black and Latino communities, the census showed.

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As a result of all that growth, the state picked up four new congressional seats, more than any other state, and the redistricting battle centers in part on how those seats should be apportioned, a process that political observers say could tip the balance of power in Congress.

Gov. Rick Perry, who is campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination, approved the maps created by the Republican-dominated Texas legislature in June (leading opponents to coin the term ‘Perrymandered’).

Opponents contend the maps make it difficult for minority candidates to get elected, leaving minorities with 10 of the 36 state legislative seats, the same number they had before redistricting, according to Michael Li, a Dallas elections lawyer monitoring the redistricting case.

“The issue really is whether there is a legally enforceable map,” Li told The Times. The battle pits Latino politicians and lawyers against their white counterparts, particularly in North Texas.

In closing arguments in San Antonio on Friday, the state’s lead attorney, David Schenck, said the redistricting lawsuits are an “effort to fix the results of an election,” according to the San Antonio Express-News. He said opponents of the maps were attempting to turn the Voting Rights Act into a “quota program for redistricting,” the Express-News reported.

The panel of three federal judges presiding over the trial responded by quizzing Schenck. Judge Xavier Rodriguez, a former Texas Supreme Court judge appointed to the federal bench by President George W. Bush, asked Schenck if the state felt compelled to apportion the four new congressional districts to reflect that most of the state’s recent growth came from minority communities. Schenck said the state was not obligated to do so.

The judges have indicated they will rule after federal judges in Washington, D.C., hear another case concerning the same redistricting maps, likely in late October or early November, Li said.

Li said the rulings could force Texas state election officials to delay the November elections, including the presidential primary, which might affect Perry’s bid for the Republican presidential nomination.

“Given the filing deadlines, that makes it a little hairy,” Li said.

Under the provisions of the Voting Rights Act, states with a history of voter suppression, including Texas, are required to submit changes to their election laws and maps to either the U.S. Department of Justice or the Washington District Court to ensure they comply with the Voting Rights Act. The process is called preclearance. Unlike in past years, Texas Atty. Gen. Gregg Abbott sought preclearance from the courts instead of the Department of Justice.

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-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske in Houston

Graphic: Booming growth helped Texas pick up four new congressional districts since the last census, the most of any state, and prompted a redistricting court battle. Credit: Texas Legislative Council.


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