Texas Seeks End to Voting Case After Adopting Court Plan

Texas Governor Rick Perry’s bid to end the state’s two-year redistricting fight was rebuffed by a panel of federal judges who refused to dismiss a lawsuit by voting-rights activists and said they would consider adding the state’s latest election maps to the current challenge.

The three-judge panel in San Antonio gave minority-rights activists until July 12 to formalize a request to add maps signed into law last week by Perry to the continuing case. The state opposes the addition.

“On a new map, a new lawsuit needs to be filed,” Texas Assistant Attorney General David Mattax told the judges. “The 2011 maps don’t exist anymore. They’ve been repealed by the legislation.”

The state argued that stopgap congressional and state legislative districts drawn by the panel before the 2012 election should become permanent after the U.S. Supreme Court threw out part of the Voting Rights Act.

Texas lawmakers adopted the voting maps one day before the Supreme Court’s June 25 ruling removed the requirement for the state to obtain U.S. Justice Department approval for changes to its elections.

Temporary Block

The minority-rights groups that won an order temporarily blocking the election maps drawn by lawmakers in 2011 wanted the judges today to further change district boundaries. They contend the maps Perry, a Republican, signed into law were intended only for last year’s elections and still discriminate against black and Latino voters, who historically vote more often for Democrats.

“That intentional discrimination has not been erased,” Jose Garza, one of the lawyers leading the redistricting challenge, said in an interview.

The judges today denied Texas’s motion to dismiss the case. The panel gave lawyers three weeks to submit briefs on how section 3(c) of the Voting Rights Act might allow the court to order the state to obtain federal approval of all election changes. Section 3C gives judges such discretion in states that have recently engaged in discriminatory practices.

U.S. Circuit Judge Jerry Smith asked Garza if triggering section 3(c) was the activists’ goal in asking the court to find the legislature’s 2011 maps were created with intentional discrimination, since those maps have been replaced by the 2013 maps.

‘Changes Everything’

“It changes everything,” Garza responded, if the court declared grounds for a section 3(c) redistricting challenge. “Then the 2013 plan would have to be pre-cleared” before it could be used in an election, he said.

For states with a history of discriminatory voting practices, like Texas, he said opponents are looking for a new judicial weapon with which to fight back.

Texas gained four congressional seats last year after the state added 4.3 million new residents, according to the 2010 U.S. Census. More than 65 percent of the new Texans are Hispanic, potentially increasing Democrats’ political power in a state that’s been a Republican stronghold for 20 years.

Other lawyers asked the panel today to add the 2013 maps to the current case. “It’s not going to end with this,” said Luis Roberto Vera, lead lawyer for the League of United Latin American Citizens and one of the attorneys who made the request on the 2013 maps.

New Actions

He said if the court had agreed with the state that this lawsuit was made irrelevant by the Supreme Court ruling, then “we’re going to be filing new actions and we’ll be back here again.”

Texas officials argue that the Republican-controlled legislature can legally create election districts that disadvantage political opponents.

Opponents say the judges only had time to adjust the most egregiously discriminatory boundaries to create interim maps so that Texas could participate in the 2012 presidential election. The U.S. Supreme Court had ordered the San Antonio judges to base their adjustments on the legislature’s maps, which were later found to have been created “with discriminatory intent” by a different panel of federal judges in Washington.

On June 25, the Supreme Court struck down the portion of the Voting Rights Act that determines which states with a history of discrimination must get federal approval for redistricting and other election-related changes.

The justices specifically threw out the Washington court’s finding that Texas’s original 2011 election maps were discriminatory, a finding that was based on a now voided portion of the Voting Rights Act.

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

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