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Texas to Ask Supreme Court for Emergency Stay of Voter Maps

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said he will file an emergency stay with the U.S. Supreme Court to block the use of election districts drawn by judges and contested by the state.

“At issue is whether the interim maps imposed by a three-judge redistricting panel violate the U.S. Constitution and federal law, and exceeds the proper role of the judiciary,” Abbott said yesterday in a statement.

Abbott said he would push for a quick ruling “so candidates will not needlessly file for office” based on “legally flawed” maps released last week by the federal court in San Antonio overseeing the state’s redistricting fight. Candidates may begin registering for Texas’s March 6 party primary elections tomorrow.

On Nov. 25, the San Antonio judges refused Governor Rick Perry’s request to delay use of the interim maps the court created for state legislative races. Yesterday, the court adopted its previously announced interim districts for the U.S. House of Representatives, which the state also opposes. Today, Perry requested that the Congressional primaries be delayed so those districts could be reviewed by the Supreme Court.

Hispanic activists and the U.S. Justice Department claim voter boundaries created by the Republican-controlled Legislature were intentionally designed to prevent the election of Latinos.

Texas gained four new congressional seats after adding almost 4.3 million new residents since 2000. Hispanics comprised about 65 percent of that increase, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.

23 Seats

“Texas Attorney General Abbott is spending more time criticizing work done by unelected judges than he is concentrating on work done by elected representatives who created a map that’s not helpful to minorities,” said Trey Martinez Fischer, chairman of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, which is fighting the state’s maps.

“Abbott is ignoring the fact that six judges in San Antonio and Washington believe there is a problem with this map the state of Texas is defending,” he said in a telephone interview.

Perry, who is seeking the Republican nomination for president, approved election maps drawn by the Texas Legislature in June. Critics said the maps created no new districts that improved election opportunities for Latinos, who historically have voted more often for Democrats than Republicans.

Republicans hold 23 of Texas’s 32 congressional seats.

Interim Maps

Separate three-judge panels have held hearings in Washington and San Antonio on related challenges to Texas’s electoral maps. Latino activists and congressmen whose jobs were threatened by the Legislature’s maps sued Perry in San Antonio federal court in August, seeking to block the maps.

Abbott sued the U.S. Justice Department in Washington federal court seeking pre-clearance of the election maps, a step required of all states with a history of voting rights violations. The Washington court on Nov. 8 refused to allow the Perry-approved maps to be used in next year’s elections, saying the court needed time to explore allegations that they were designed to keep Latinos out of office.

To avoid a delay in the state’s election cycle, the San Antonio judges created interim maps they said more fairly reflected the distribution of the state’s increased population. They proposed interim congressional boundaries on Nov. 23, a week after they submitted interim state legislative districts.

Ample Time

Texas Republicans claim the judges substituted their own policy preferences for those of the state’s elected representatives. Such action “ignores the voice of the citizenry,” Abbott said in objecting to the maps.

Republicans complained the judges’ maps favor the state’s Democratic minority too much and represent too radical a remedy, given that no court has yet determined the lawmakers’ maps are racially biased.

U.S. District Judge Jerry E. Smith, the dissenting member of the three-judge panel, said the court should delay implementing any of the new maps and keep candidates from filing until the high court has reviewed the panel’s work.

“Texas has some of the earliest primaries,” Smith said in his dissent from the order rejecting Perry’s bid to block use of the judges’ maps. “A delay of even a few weeks would still provide ample time for orderly primaries and runoffs well in advance of the November elections.”

The Texas case is Perez v. Perry, 5:11-cv-00360, U.S. District Court, Western District of Texas (San Antonio). The Washington case is Texas v. U.S., 1:11-cv-1303, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).

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