Texas Redistricting Before Federal Panel

By April Castro
Published December 23rd 2003 in Associated Press
A trial to hear challenges to a Republican-backed congressional redistricting map wrapped up Tuesday, with the case now in the hands of a three-judge federal panel.

One of the judges said a ruling could be made at the end of next week "at the earliest."

Democrats and minority groups sued the state over the map, saying minority voting strength was weakened in a handful of districts in violation of the Voting Rights Act.

The map could put as many as seven additional Republicans in Texas' congressional delegation, which is now ruled 17-15 by Democrats.

After closing arguments Tuesday, Judge Patrick Higginbotham questioned state attorneys as to how the court should proceed if a violation is found but cautioned them not to "read anything into this."

The court could tweak the map to rid it of violations while maintaining the new districts, but plaintiffs argued that the state should revert to the existing map if flaws are found.

Either way, the ruling is expected to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Candidates and counties are preparing for the March 9 primary election. Some congressional candidates who already have filed for candidacy under the current map will have to refile if the new one is accepted by the court.

The redistricting plan was passed by the Legislature after a year of partisan fighting. Democrats staged two out-of-state boycotts to thwart the effort.

The Justice Department cleared the map last week after reviewing it for violations to the Voting Rights Act.