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Minority groups object to new Texas political maps

By Paul J. Weber

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 29 2012 2:55 p.m. MST

This undated illustration provided by the Texas Legislative Council shows PLANH309, the court-ordered interim House redistricting plan for Texas. A federal court in San Antonio issued new Texas congressional and state House maps on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2012, just in time for the state to finally hold its twice-delayed primary on May 29. The ruling by a three-judge panel could clear the way for elections, if none of the nine groups contesting the state's political districts files an appeal. All sides were studying the complex maps to determine their next move.

Texas Legislative Council, Associated Press

AUSTIN, Texas — Minority groups in Texas objected Wednesday to new congressional and state House maps drawn by a San Antonio court, urging a separate court in Washington, D.C., to speed up a review that could mark the last opportunity to change the political boundaries ahead of the 2012 elections.

The League of United Latin American Citizens, the NAACP and three other groups say the new maps unveiled Tuesday don't do enough to guarantee minority voters have equal representation. The maps, they say, either split up minority groups so that their candidates can't win, or pack minorities into only a handful of districts.

At issue are two separate courts. The first in San Antonio was asked to consider if the Republican-controlled Legislature discriminated against minorities in drafting the new maps. The other in Washington is still considering whether the same maps violate the federal Voting Rights Act.

The timing of the Washington court's ruling is important because national party rules require primary elections be held by June 26. If the court doesn't act in time, this year's Texas elections would be held under the temporary maps proposed by the court in San Antonio.

In submitting its design Tuesday, the San Antonio court signaled the Texas primaries could likely be held May 29 — giving the delegate-rich state a chance to remain relevant in the Republican presidential primary if Mitt Romney hasn't sewn up the nomination by then.

The Texas primary was once considered the biggest prize of next week's Super Tuesday, but the legal wrangling over redistricting has pushed the state's primary back twice — from March 6 to May 29.

The U.S. Supreme Court threw out the San Antonio court's first attempt to draw temporary maps because they didn't adhere closely enough to what the Legislature created. The court released a second set of maps on Tuesday following the Supreme Court's instructions.

Since the new congressional and state House maps are based on the Legislature's originals, the court-drawn maps reflect the same "intentional discrimination" of the Legislature's maps, the groups argued in the court filing Wednesday.

The Washington court has said it would probably rule sometime in March. If the courts accept the minority groups' argument, such a move would delay the Texas primaries even further.

Also at stake is who will win four new seats that could alter the balance of power in the U.S. House and whether Republicans will retain a supermajority in the Texas House. Under the congressional map, Republicans and Democrats appeared poised to split the four new seats. The Republican Party of Texas said it could win 100 out of 150 seats in the next state House election using the new maps.

Republicans insisted they are fair.

"The new interim maps issued late today are a substantial improvement from maps previously issued by the San Antonio court," Texas Attorney General Gregg Abbott said. "As a result of the U.S. Supreme Court's unanimous, clear direction to the district court, these new interim maps more accurately reflect the decisions of elected Texas legislators."

Minorities made up 89 percent of the population growth in the state, and the Legislature's map would have led to only one new minority elected to Congress from Texas. Minority rights groups accused the Legislature of drawing maps that discriminated against them, but Democrats hardly cheered what the court delivered Tuesday.

"These maps may be slightly better than those passed by a radical legislature, but they still grossly misrepresent the demographics of our state," the Texas Democratic Party said in a statement.

Paul Weber reported from San Antonio.

Online:

Texas redistricting website: http://www.tlc.state.tx.us/redist/redist.htm

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