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Texas Used ‘Improper Standard’ for Voter Maps, Court Rules

Nov. 8 (Bloomberg) -- Texas legislative and congressional district maps failed to win approval by a panel of federal judges in a lawsuit pitting the Justice Department against the state Legislature and Governor Rick Perry.

“The State of Texas used an improper standard or methodology to determine which districts afford minority voters the ability to elect their preferred candidates of choice,” the panel in Washington ruled today.

Disputed factual issues mean the court can’t decide the case based on arguments alone, the judges said, rejecting the state’s bid for approval of the plans without a trial.

The panel, made up of two district judges and one circuit judge, said the federal court in San Antonio must now develop interim maps for the 2012 election. The judges said an opinion describing the decision in detail will be issued later.

“Texas still believes its maps will withstand scrutiny under the standard the court chooses to apply at the time of trial,” Lauren Bean, a spokeswoman for Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, said today in an e-mail.

The U.S. objects to two proposed congressional districts and five state assembly districts. The plans were approved by Perry, who is seeking the Republican nomination for president.

‘Political Influence’

“Today’s ruling supports what leaders of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus have been saying for months -- the Republican Leadership discriminated against minorities by seeking to grow their political influence in the halls of Congress and the Texas House while ignoring the demographic reality of those responsible for our state’s population growth,” Trey Martinez Fischer, a Democratic member of the Texas House of Representatives and chairman of the caucus, said in an e-mailed statement.

The Justice Department said in a court filing last month that Texas “purposely manipulated” proposed congressional districts in the Dallas-Fort Worth area to decrease current and future minority voter strength in violation of the Voting Rights Act.

Texas sued the administration of President Barack Obama in July seeking so-called pre-clearance for the state’s new maps under the voting act, a step required of all states with a history of voting-rights violations.

State’s Arguments

In arguments before the Washington panel last week, Texas said the U.S. Justice Department and other objectors are using the law as “a political tool” in violation of the constitution in an effort to unseat Republicans.

The majority-Republican Legislature redrew electoral maps after the state grew enough to gain four seats in Congress, adding almost 4.3 million residents since 2000, according to the 2010 census.

In June, Perry signed the bill containing the election map created by Texas lawmakers.

Congressional representatives whose jobs are threatened by the redistricting plan sued Perry and the state in federal court in San Antonio to block approval of the map, as did Hispanic voting-rights organizations and Travis County, which includes the capital, Austin.

The Texas case is Perez v. Perry, 5:11-cv-0360, U.S. District Court, Western District of Texas (San Antonio). The Washington case is Texas v. the U.S., 1:11-cv-01303, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).

To contact the reporter on this story: Tom Schoenberg in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at

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