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With Supreme Court Appeal, Texas Wants To Keep Congressional Map Intact

Jim Malewitz
The Texas Tribune
Jose Garza, an attorney for the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, and former state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer speak to reporters in April following a status conference on a years-long challenge to Texas' political maps.

If Gov. Greg Abbott calls a second special legislative session this summer, it won’t be for redistricting.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton revealed Friday that Abbott won't ask lawmakers to redraw the state's congressional map — found by a federal court this week to discriminate against Latino and black voters — in a fresh round of legislative overtime. 

Instead, Paxton is appealing the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court and trying to keep the boundaries intact for the 2018 elections, according to his filing to a panel of three judges in San Antonio. 

On Tuesday, the panel ruled that Congressional Districts 27 and 35 violate the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act, setting up a redistricting scramble ahead of the 2018 elections. 

The judges ruled that Hispanic voters in Congressional District 27, represented by U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi, were "intentionally deprived of their opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice." Congressional District 35 — a Central Texas district represented by Democrat Lloyd Doggett of Austin — was deemed "an impermissible racial gerrymander" because lawmakers illegally used race as the predominant factor in drawing it, the judges wrote.

The judges asked Texas whether lawmakers would return to Austin to try making a new map, or if Republican leadership would wait for court-drawn boundaries. 

In his filing Friday, Paxton revealed a state plan to wriggle free of any consequences ahead of the 2018 elections. While asking the Supreme Court to overturn the lower court's ruling that Texas intentionally discriminated against minority voters — the fourth such federal ruling this year — Paxton also requested an injunction that would protect Texas from needing a new map.

Barring a Supreme Court order, the San Antonio judges would approve new boundaries. 

Redesigning the embattled map, which Texas used for the past three election cycles, would affect congressional races statewide, since boundary changes in the two flagged districts would also reshape their neighbors.

For now, Texas and its legal foes — groups representing minority communities — are scheduled to return to court on Sept. 5 to wrangle over a new map.

An open question is whether judges will approve new boundaries without delaying the 2018 primaries, an outcome that could shake up some races.

Remember Ted Cruz’s election to the U.S. Senate in 2012? Legal wrangling over the state’s map pushed that year’s primary elections and subsequent runoffs into the dog days of summer, when Cruz pulled out an upset win over then-Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.

Local elections administrators say they need clarity by October to meet deadlines for sending out voter registration cards, and December is the filing deadline for candidates.


From The Texas Tribune

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