AUSTIN (AP) — A federal court refused late Friday to block a congressional redistricting map it drew up for Texas, rejecting a request from the state’s attorney general just hours after the Republican accused the court of “undermining the democratic process.”
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott had asked the San Antonio-based court to stay the implementation of its interim map, which the court drafted when minority groups challenged the original plan passed by the Republican-dominated state Legislature.
The court-drawn map would ensure minorities made up the majority in three additional Texas congressional districts. If the 2012 elections were held under the court’s map, Democrats would have an advantage as they try to win back the U.S. House.
Abbott said he would appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Meanwhile, the court-ordered map will remain in place until the legal fights are resolved.
In a court filing earlier Friday, Abbott accused the court of overstepping its authority.
“A court’s job is to apply the law, not to make policy,” he wrote. “A federal court lacks constitutional authority to interfere with the expressed will of the state Legislature unless it is compelled to remedy a specific, identifiable violation of law.”
The court drew the maps after minority groups filed a lawsuit, claiming a redistricting plan devised by the Republican lawmakers didn’t reflect growth in the state’s Hispanic and black populations.
Abbott argued in his court filing that the “legislatively enacted plans incorporate constituents’ concerns about communities of interest and proper representation.” Therefore, the court’s departure from the map approved by the Legislature “not only undermines the democratic process, it ignores the voice of the citizenry.”
Lawmakers redraw boundaries for the state’s legislative districts every 10 years to reflect changes in census data. Texas’ population boom in the last decade gave it four new U.S. House seats, which will be filled in the 2012 election.
Like other states with a history of racial discrimination, Texas can’t implement those new maps or other changes to voting practices without federal approval under the Voting Rights Act. No federal approval, and looming deadlines for county election officials, made it necessary for the court to issue its own plans — which could be implemented immediately.
Minorities currently are the majority in 10 of Texas’ 32 congressional districts. The new court-drawn map would raise that to 13 out of 36 districts.
Republican lawmakers insist the maps drawn by the Legislature merely reflect the Republican majority in Texas. Experts say that under the legislatively approved map, three of the new seats would likely be won by Republicans.
When drawing the interim map, the court gave priority to ensuring minority voting strength was protected in the 2012 election.
In its own filing Friday, the NAACP cheered the court-drawn interim map as a “step forward for Texas.” The group said it, “recognizes the growth of the minority population and takes significant steps toward remedying some of the startling lack of proportionality in the prior plans.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)