By Jim Vertuno
Published December 1st 2003 in Associated Press
AUSTIN (AP)--A three-judge federal panel on Monday rejected attempts to force House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and Rep. Joe Barton to testify in a lawsuit over Texas' new congressional districts.
The two Republicans had been issued subpoenas for deposition testimony, letters, e-mails and other materials in a lawsuit that seeks to block the new congressional maps.
The federal panel agreed with the lawmakers' attorney that only under exceptional circumstances, such as having unique information in a case, could they be subject to a subpoena.
The panel left open the possibility of reconsidering its decision during trial, which is to begin on Dec. 11.
``We had hoped we'd be able to take the testimony from both members,'' said Gerry Hebert, a lawyer for congressional Democrats who want to learn more about the role DeLay and Barton played in the redistricting process.
``The court at least recognized that it may be necessary to do so,'' he said.
DeLay's office was pleased with the ruling.
``The court recognized that allowing political operatives to question their opponents under oath about their political game plan is too ripe for abuse,'' said DeLay spokesman Stuart Roy.
Republicans redrew Texas congressional districts this year after a lengthy legislative battle. The changes could give Republicans seven more congressional seats. Democrats control the delegation now, 17-15.
Also Monday, the Colorado Supreme Court struck down that state's new congressional districts as unconstitutional. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott's office said that decision is particular to Colorado law.
In the Colorado case, the issue was whether the redistricting map pushed through by Republicans there this year was illegal. The General Assembly is required to redraw the maps only after each census and before the ensuing general election--not at any other time.