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Texas asks Supreme Court for help in redistricting flap

November 28, 2011|By David G. Savage | Washington Bureau
  • Texas Gov. Rick Perry, pictured here at a campaign event in New York earlier this month, asked the Supreme Court on Monday to intervene in a congressional redistricting dispute.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, pictured here at a campaign event in New York earlier… (Henny Ray Abrams / Associated…)

The U.S. Supreme Court was asked Monday to intervene in a partisan political dispute from Texas and to block the use of a new, judge-drawn map of its congressional districts that could cost Republicans four or more seats in the House of Representatives.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry urged the high court to act quickly to set aside the map drawn by federal judges and instead to allow the Lone Star State to elect its House members under a map drawn by the Republican-controlled Legislature. Perry’s appeal denounced the judges' map as a “runaway plan that imposes an extreme redistricting scheme” on Texas.

Because of a population surge, Texas is due four more seats in the House, giving it a total of 36 representatives. But it is unclear whether its congressional delegation will be elected in 2012 in districts devised by the GOP or instead under the judge-drawn map. Political experts say the judges' map gives Democrats a good chance of winning three or more extra seats in Congress.

The state’s attorneys asked the justices to rule soon on its emergency appeal. They said candidates for Congress must file to run between Monday and Dec. 12, and they need to know where their districts will be located.

The legal dispute concerns the Voting Rights Act and its provisions requiring that minorities have a reasonable chance to elect candidates of their choice.

The Obama administration’s Justice Department in Washington and Latino activists in Texas went to court and opposed the GOP redistricting plan on the grounds that it would not lead to more Latino representation in Congress.

Under one provision in the Voting Rights Act, the Southern states may not change their election systems until those systems have been approved in Washington. And because the Texas plan has yet to gain this “pre-clearance,” a three-judge panel in San Antonio drew up its own map for use in the interim.

The judges split 2-1 on the plan. U.S. District Judges Orlando Garcia and Xavier Rodriquez  adopted the interim map, while Judge Jerry Smith of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals dissented.

Texas Atty. Gen. Greg Abbott argued the two judges should have waited for a final ruling in Washington on the fate of the legislature’s redistricting plan. “It is judicial activism at its worst for judges to draw redistricting maps of their own choosing despite no finding of wrongdoing by the state of Texas,” he said.

Washington attorney Paul Clement, a former U.S. solicitor general, filed the appeal on behalf of Texas and also asked the justices to put a hold on a judge-drawn map of state legislative districts.

The emergency plea was delivered to Justice Antonin Scalia, who oversees appeals from Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana. He called on the lawyers defending the judge-drawn map to file responses to the Texas appeal by Thursday afternoon.


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