Mexican-American rights group files redistricting suit

By Kelley Shannon
Published October 15th 2003 in Austin American-Statesman
AUSTIN -- The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund has jumped into the court fight over the newly enacted Republican congressional redistricting map.

MALDEF filed a lawsuit Tuesday in federal court in Victoria on behalf of the American GI Forum of Texas, a group devoted to securing equal rights for Hispanics. The lawsuit contends the new redistricting plan does not create another Hispanic district.

"The newly-enacted congressional redistricting plan for Texas does not accurately reflect Latino voting strength in the year 2003," said Nina Perales, MALDEF regional counsel and lead attorney in the court case.

Although the Republican plan "purports to create an additional Latino majority district in South Texas, in fact it eliminates one district and adds another, with no net increase in electoral opportunity," Perales said.

If Texas is going to redistrict, Perales said, the result should be an increase in the number of Hispanic districts, particularly in South Texas and Dallas.

At least two other legal challenges have been filed since the Legislature gave final approval Sunday to the new congressional districts.

Democrats are asking a federal court in Tyler to stop the state from implementing the new plan for the 2004 election cycle. That court challenge ó a motion filed in a previous redistricting lawsuit ó alleges that using the new map would be disruptive because it moves more than 8.1 million Texans into new districts and that there are strong arguments that the map violates federal law.

Also, a group of Democrats has asked U.S. District Judge John T. Ward in Marshall to issue a temporary restraining order to prohibit changing the districts. Rusk City Councilman Walter Session, one of the plaintiffs, said he believes black representation would be lost under the Legislature's new plan.

Republicans wanted a new congressional map to reflect the state's conservative voting trends and to give the GOP the edge in the state's congressional delegation. Democrats, who control the state's congressional delegation 17-15, wanted to keep existing districts.

Republican Gov. Rick Perry, who called three special sessions to get redistricting accomplished, signed the redistricting bill into law Monday. It takes effect after 90 days.