Saturday, September 3, 2011

Judges to fast-track Texas redistricting case

A panel of federal judges made clear Thursday that they want to fast-track the highly political Texas redistricting case before them.

At a pretrial hearing on the legal challenge to Texas' new congressional and legislative district boundaries, the three judges emphasized to a handful of the state's attorneys and about a dozen plaintiffs' lawyers, most of whom represent African American and Hispanic interests , that they intend to limit testimony in the complex case. The judges also said they anticipate that the trial would last only nine days.

About 10 years ago, when another federal panel of judges heard a redistricting case, the trial lasted 3,5 weeks, lawyers said in the courtroom Thursday.

U.S. District Judge Xavier Rodriguez of San Antonio, U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia of San Antonio and Judge Jerry E. Smith, of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, will preside over the trial that is set to begin Tuesday.

At the root of the case are the maps with redrawn congressional and legislative districts adopted by the Legislature in June to reflect population changes, as reflected by the 2010 U.S. Census.

Some of the plaintiffs' lawyers - including those representing the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, the League of United Latin American Cities, several democratic members of the Texas House and Travis County - argue that the new Texas House district boundaries dilute minority populations' votes.

Other plaintiffs' lawyers contend that the Legislature should have created more congressional minority opportunity districts to reflect the growing Hispanic population in Texas, because Texas will gain four U.S. House seats from its population growth.

Lawyers from Attorney General Greg Abbott's office have said that the GOP-majority Legislature passed nondiscriminatory maps and that the plaintiffs' case is unwarranted.

One of the plaintiffs, state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, said a quick resolution is important for the political process. This November, voters will go to the polls to pass judgment on several proposed constitutional amendments. But those who will run in the March 2012 primaries have begun announcing their candidacies and in some cases are already campaigning. For example, U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, and state Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, already are wooing voters in the proposed District 35 seat.

"People want to know what their district will look like," Rodriguez said. "They want to know who they'll be voting for."

The San Antonio case is just one step of the review process. A court in Washington will decide if the maps can be "pre-cleared" by the U.S. Department of Justice as not violating the federal Voting Rights Act. There is no date scheduled yet for the case.

By By Tim Eaton, American-statesman Staff,; 445-3631

Source: Austin American-Statesman

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