Texas Candidates May File for Office by Dec. 19, Judge Says

A U.S. judge said Texas candidates have until Dec. 19 to file for office, as wrangling over election district boundaries continues in three federal courts. The deadline had been tomorrow.

U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia, on behalf of a three-judge panel in federal court in San Antonio, extended candidate filing deadlines for the second time during Texas’s continuing redistricting fight. He said candidates will have yet another chance to file for office once the boundaries are made final.

“The court will reopen the filing period at a later time, at which time applications may be filed, amended or withdrawn,’’ Garcia said in a four-page order.

The judges extended the filing window after a day-long hearing yesterday in which Democrats and Republicans debated whether Texas should hold one primary election for all races or split various races into separate primaries. Garcia’s order said today’s extension of the filing deadline doesn’t affect that continuing discussion.

The debate was prompted by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to hear a challenge stemming from complaints by Hispanic voting rights groups and the U.S. Justice Department that election maps drawn by the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature are racially gerrymandered.

U.S. High Court

The U.S. high court will hear arguments on Jan. 9 at a hearing in Washington. The justices put on hold the implementation of both the Legislature’s election maps and temporary replacement maps drawn by the three-judge San Antonio panel until they decide if the lower court overstepped its authority by creating maps that largely ignored the Legislature’s lines.

Texas gained four 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.

Texas Governor Rick Perry, who is seeking the Republican nomination for president, approved election maps drawn by the Legislature in June. Critics said the maps created no new districts that improved election opportunities for Latinos, who provided the bulk of the state’s growth and who have historically voted more often for Democrats than Republicans.

Republicans hold 23 of Texas’s 32 congressional seats.

The San Antonio court is weighing the Hispanic activists’ challenge to the state’s maps, while a separate three-judge panel in federal court in Washington weighs a lawsuit Texas filed there seeking pre-clearance of the Legislature’s election maps.

Voting Rights

Texas, like all states with a history of voting rights violations, must obtain pre-clearance from the Washington court or the Justice Department before implementing new election districts. The Obama Administration opposes the state’s maps. The Washington court has set the dispute for trial beginning Jan. 17.

Texas’s Republican Party leadership yesterday asked the San Antonio court to keep the state’s presidential primary election on March 6, and push primaries for legislative, congressional and other races to a later date, according to two lawyers who attended the hearing. Splitting the primaries would let Texas preserve its prominence in national politics by remaining in the influential Super Tuesday presidential primary contest, they argued.

Twenty eight Texas congressmen and state representatives from both political parties sent a letter yesterday to the San Antonio court, asking for a later, unified primary.

“A single primary election would reduce voter confusion, reduce the cost to taxpayers of two primaries, and minimize voter fatigue due to multiple elections in a small period of time,’’ the lawmakers said in the letter.

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). The appellate case is Perry v. Perez, 11A536 (Congressional map), U.S. Supreme Court.

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