Partial deal reached in Texas redistricting case

February 15, 2012 12:38:34 PM PST
The Texas attorney general's office and a coalition of minority groups announced a deal Wednesday on one of three disputed electoral maps, a step forward in resolving when Texas will hold its primary elections.

Texas holds the country's second largest number of delegates in the presidential race, but is unlikely to influence the Republican nomination because a dispute over the state's political maps has pushed back the primary, originally scheduled to be part of next month's Super Tuesday contests. Election administrators told a three-judge panel that the soonest reasonable date now is May 22.

Attorneys for the state and minorities in the Fort Worth area told the federal judges in San Antonio that they had reached a deal on state Senate maps, but that would apply only to the 2012 elections. Eight other groups continued to contest the Texas House and congressional districts. The congressional maps are critical because Texas is adding four seats next year and who wins them could decide which party controls the U.S. House.

While the compromise was only a small step toward a deal, it represented at least some progress after months of legal jousting that has reached all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The two sides didn't exactly come back to the bargaining table on their own terms. U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia on Tuesday night ordered them to return the next morning with a deal, sounding as though he was losing patience with weeks of stalled talks despite repeated court-ordered negotiations.

The Republican-controlled Legislature drew the disputed Senate map in a way to make sure one incumbent Democrat, Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth, was not re-elected. It also divided up minority voters into districts dominated by whites, something forbidden under the Voting Rights Act.

The compromise restores the district largely to its previous boundaries with a similar racial make-up, a major victory for Davis.

The state House maps remained hung up Wednesday afternoon as lawyers for the minority groups argued that because 89 percent of the new residents in Texas were minorities, those people should have more districts that would allow them to elect a candidate of their choice. The attorney representing Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said the minority groups were more interested in benefiting Democrats than making sure minority voters were represented.

By some counts, more than 50 of the state House's 150 districts remained in dispute.

The federal courts must redraw the maps created by the Republican-controlled Legislature because of two parallel lawsuits that have yet to be resolved. Because Texas has a history of racial discrimination, any changes to electoral law must be approved either by the Department of Justice or the federal court in Washington. A three judge panel in Washington declined to approve the maps and the justice department said they discriminated against minorities.

Minority groups also brought a lawsuit against the state in San Antonio, asking the federal court to block the maps because they dilute the voting power of minorities. Pending an outcome of the Washington case, the San Antonio court must draw temporary maps.

The judges in San Antonio have tried to force all the groups to compromise, but so far only the state senate maps have been resolved.