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Supreme Court weighs GOP appeal over Texas election map

The Supreme Court is likely to decide early this week whether to act on an appeal from Texas Republicans and block the use of an election map that could help three or more Latino Democrats win seats in Congress next year.

The case of Rick Perry vs. Shannon Perez is the first redistricting battle to come before the high court in the round of political line-drawing that followed the 2010 census. It mixes partisan politics with a continuing legal dispute over the role of the Voting Rights Act in aiding minority candidates.

Obama administration lawyers had joined the case on the side of Latino civil rights advocates. Together, they argued that Texas Republicans who control the Legislature had denied fair representation to the state’s growing Latino minority.

Texas was a big winner in the recent census tally. Its population grew by nearly 4.3 million, driven by a surge of Latinos. Based on this growth, the Lone Star State will receive four more seats in the House of Representatives, giving it 36.

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At issue now is whether state lawmakers are entitled to draw the district lines to benefit their party, or instead, whether judges should draw the lines to ensure more representation for Latinos and blacks.

Partisan gerrymandering is the norm in most states when one party has a clear edge in power, and the GOP dominates Texas politics. Former House Republican leader Tom DeLay devised the last map changes, which helped Republicans win 22 of the state’s 32 seats in Congress. In statewide elections, Republicans usually win about 57% of the vote.

In the summer, the GOP leadership in Austin drew a new map for its congressional districts that was expected to result in a 26-10 division for Republicans after the 2012 election. Gov. Perry signed it into law.

But under the Voting Rights Act, Texas had to win “pre-clearance” from Washington before it could make this change in its voting rules. In early November, a special three-judge panel in Washington refused to immediately approve the new map.

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Back in Texas, three federal judges in San Antonio who were hearing a separate challenge to the redistricting plan then opted to draw an interim map. They noted that candidates in Texas were due to file for office by Dec. 15, and they would need to know where their districts were located.

That special judicial panel split 2 to 1, however, with two Latinos in the majority. U.S. District Court Judges Orlando Garcia and Xavier Rodriguez adopted the interim map for the congressional seats, which creates three new districts with large Latino populations. Judge Jerry Smith of the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals dissented, calling it a “runaway plan that imposes an extreme redistricting plan” on Texas.

Last week, lawyers for Texas filed an emergency appeal saying the judges had set out to “create race-based districts.”

david.savage@latimes.com


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