AUSTIN (AP) - Texas Republicans proposed legislation on Thursday that would adopt the current political maps, but Democrats promised to fight the effort.
Amarillo Sen. Kel Seliger offered a redistricting bill to the Senate State Affairs Committee that would formally adopt interim maps drawn by a federal court in San Antonio last year. The maps for Congressional, state Senate and House districts were used for the 2012 election while a federal court in Washington DC reviewed maps drawn by the Legislature after minority groups filed a lawsuit to block them.
After the 2012 primary, that federal three-judge panel determined that the Republican-controlled Legislature intentionally discriminated against African Americans and Latinos, prompting Attorney General Greg Abbott to appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court and challenge the court’s authority to review the maps under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.
Seliger throwing out the old maps and formally adopting the San Antonio court’s interim maps would end the litigation.
“The interim maps represent the court’s best judgment as to the maps that would be fully legal and constitutional,” he said. “Enacting these lawful and constitutional interim plans will help bring to a close this chapter of redistricting, enacting these plans will practically ensure that the ongoing litigation over Texas redistricting plans will come to a swift end and bring some surety of the primaries ensuing.”
The Senate Democratic Caucus, Mexican American Legislative Caucus, NAACP and voting rights group Common Cause leapt to oppose the measure and Seliger’s assertions.
“Neither I nor my 11 colleagues … can trust the redistricting process,” said Sen. Kirk Watson, representing Senate Democrats. “Texas was the only state in the nation subject to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act that was found to have deliberately discriminated against African American and Latino citizens.”
He said Abbott’s efforts to overturn Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act and to restore the original maps the Washington court found discriminatory could only lead Democrats and minorities to distrust Seliger’s bill.
Jose Garza, an attorney with the Mexican American Legislative Caucus who argued before the Washington court, said Seliger mischaracterized the interim maps and said Washington court’s decision called for the San Antonio court to draw yet another set of maps. He promised continued litigation if the Legislature adopted the interim maps.
Committee Chairman Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, said he would accept written testimony on the bill through April 24 and the reconvene the committee to decide whether to move forward.
Rep. Trey Martinez Fisher, D-San Antonio, said the Legislature should wait to see how the U.S. Supreme Court rules on Abbott’s appeal and what the San Antonio court decides based on the Court’s ruling before trying to adopt new maps.
The 2012 primaries were delayed almost three months because of the litigation over the Legislature’s original maps, and many analysts believe that gave tea party challengers a chance to defeat more mainstream Republicans in key races. Many Republican lawmakers would prefer not to run under new maps or a delayed primary.
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