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Texas Redistricting Plan Still Faces Hurdles

July 22, 2011

WASHINGTON, D. C. - Texas' redistricting plan, which was signed into law by Gov. Rick Perry this week, requires federal clearance before it can be implemented. Attorney General Greg Abbott asked a three-judge panel in Washington, D.C., for that approval Tuesday.

It's the first time Texas has opted for the courts rather than the Department of Justice to review new political maps for congressional, legislative, and State Board of Education districts. The state is allowed to choose between administrative and court venues to hear arguments that its plan complies with provisions of the federal Voting Rights Act that guarantee adequate minority representation.

Matt Angle, director of the Lone Star Project, a progressive research organization, says the state's decision to bypass the administrative option is politically strategic.

"It filed with the D.C. District Court because it knows that venue will be much more expensive for those people who oppose their actions. And they don't have to worry about their own legal bills, because the Texas taxpayers pick up the bill for the Republicans."

An administrative filing would cost the state around $100,000, says Angle, compared to as much as $1 million with the court approach. He thinks the objective was simply to make the fight costlier for opponents, and predicts the state's redistricting efforts will eventually be deemed illegal.

Republicans have argued that they were unable to draw minority opportunity districts in certain parts of the state because the maps would not have been deemed compact enough. Critics, however, point to unwieldy legislative maps as evidence that the Republican argument is inconsistent. In its filing, the state says its new maps will in no way abridge anyone's right to vote based on their minority status. But Angle says the Texas plan actually takes a step backward when it comes to minority representation.

"It defies logic that a state could pick up four Congressional seats - all of them due to the increase in Black and Hispanic growth - and Republicans be allowed to have fewer districts that provide minorities an opportunity to elect their candidate of choice."

He says some of the new districts that appear to favor minority representation are actually top-heavy with Anglo precincts known for their high voter turnout.

It is unclear how soon the D.C. panel will act on the state's clearance request. Meanwhile, there are additional hurdles - including various lawsuits against the new maps, some of which are scheduled to be heard in a San Antonio court in early September.

Peter Malof, Public News Service - TX