SAN ANTONIO (AP) – Congressional Texas Democrats returned from Washington on Monday to bash newly drawn voting districts, testifying in federal court that the GOP-approved map discriminates by crowding blacks and Hispanics into shared districts despite a surge in minority growth over the past decade.
U.S. Reps. Eddie Bernice Johnson, Henry Cuellar and Al Green each asked a three-judge panel to throw out the redistricting map drawn by the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature and signed by Gov. Rick Perry this summer.
“Nothing is more satisfying to any minority group than having someone who looks like them represent them,” said Bernice Johnson, who was first elected to her Dallas district in 1992.
The prominent lineup of witnesses signaled that Democrats were winding down their case after more than a week of calling experts and minority leaders affected by the new map. They expected to rest later Monday after the scheduled testimony of U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee.
The state maintains that the map is fair and maintains or increases the voting power of minorities. The Texas attorney general’s office was set to begin calling its own witnesses Monday, and closing arguments are expected by the end of the week.
Texas received four new congressional seats following the last Census, more than any other state. The population boom was overwhelmingly driven by Hispanics, who accounted for two-thirds of the state’s growth over the past decade.
The new congressional map was drawn with the goal of protecting and possibly expanding the 23-9 majority enjoyed by Republicans in Texas’ delegation in Washington. Democrats argue the Republican plan splits Hispanic and black communities, so that conservative white residents would be more likely to win seats in Congress.
Each of the congressional Democrats conceded Monday that the new map didn’t diminish their own chances of re-election. But they warned the new boundaries would create “tension districts” — overcrowded minority districts split among blacks and Hispanics, and divided over which candidates to elect.
The Democratic lawmakers said the surge in Hispanic growth warranted those residents getting more representation in new districts to elect their candidate of choice.
Green, the Houston-area congressman first elected in 2004, said his district that currently has a plurality of black voters could be more evenly split with Hispanics under the new map. He said that by contrast, more than two dozen districts controlled by white voters are unlikely to change.
“It’s difficult to believe that it could happen by accident, the type of surgery that was performed,” Green said of the new map.
Under the Voting Rights Act, new Texas maps must be cleared by the U.S. Dept. of Justice to ensure the changes do not diminish minority representation. That case is pending in Washington.
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