Justice Department Condemns Texas Redistricting

Texas' Republican-controlled Legislature violated the federal Voting Rights Act by adopting new congressional and legislative district maps that disenfranchise minority voters, the Justice Department has told a Washington federal court in a new filing this week.

In the filing, Justice Department officials noted that their differences with Texas “can be substantially narrowed” and that they would provide the state with proposals Tuesday to limit the number of districts it would contest.

More details may emerge at a pretrial hearing Wednesday.

The state picked up four seats in Congress due to growth documented in the last census, growth driven by minority communities, experts say.

But the redistricting plan Gov. Rick Perry signed in June created no additional Latino or “opportunity” districts, critics say. They separately challenged the new maps in federal district court in San Antonio. Arguments in the case ended last week and a decision is pending, likely after the Washington court rules, legal observers say.

Texas officials have defended their maps, saying in a court filing that the maps seek “to equalize population as required by the 'one-person, one-vote' principle, avoid pairing incumbents, preserve city lines and preserve the cores of prior districts when possible.”

Under the 1965 Voting Rights Act, Texas and 15 other states with a history of disenfranchising minority voters must seek federal approval before changing election procedures. Officials in the mostly Southern states usually seek preclearance from the Justice Department to ensure they comply.

This July, Texas officials opted instead to ask a special three-judge federal court in Washington to approve the new maps.

In a nine-page response to those maps filed Monday, the Justice Department said neither Texas' congressional nor state House plans complied with provisions of the Voting Rights Act. The department didn't raise objections to maps Texas proposed for its state Senate and Board of Education.

In 2006, the Supreme Court found that the redistricting plan Texas approved after the 2000 Census violated the Voting Rights Act, and state officials had to redraw the maps to create another Latino district.

© 2011 McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

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