Texas asks high court to temporarily block redistricting map

Story highlights

  • A federal court panel drew the map after the state legislature's map was challenged
  • Texas government officials say the federal plan is "fatally flawed"
  • Texas is getting four new congressional seats

Texas officials are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to step in and temporarily block a controversial congressional redistricting plan from going into effect Monday.

The state's attorney general, Greg Abbott, filed an emergency "application" with the justices, saying a map approved by a federal panel in San Antonio is "fatally flawed." It would increase the number of districts dominated by minorities, especially Hispanic voters.

The court-drawn map was imposed after Democrats and minority groups in Texas challenged the original plan approved by the GOP-led state legislature.

Those seeking public office can begin filing their candidacies Monday, prompting the state's time-sensitive appeal to the high court. "Elections should not proceed based on legally flawed maps that are likely to be overturned on further review," Abbott said in a written statement.

The Supreme Court could allow the court-approved plan to remain in effect for now, or order the judicial panel to redraw the map, a process that could shorten the time candidates would have to campaign. The state's primary election is set for March.

Texas is getting four new congressional seats -- more than any other state -- after the latest census showed its population grew by 4 million people. The plan drafted by the three-judge panel would give minorities the majority in three of those congressional districts, and could give Democrats more seats statewide.

"Ninety percent of the growth in this state in the last decade was minority growth," said Trey Martinez Fischer, a Democratic state representative. "Sixty-five percent of that alone, Latino. So you would expect these new congressional districts would reflect the minority populations that created the opportunity."

    Fischer leads the Texas House Mexican American Legislative Caucus, the key plaintiff in the lawsuit against the legislature's original map.

    Under state rules, redistricting plans approved by the legislature can be challenged in court, with judges having the power to craft alternate maps. Republicans in the state have a super-majority in the legislature, meaning they needed no Democratic support to pass their plan. A similar party split a decade ago led Democratic lawmakers to flee to neighboring Oklahoma in an effort to kill the 2000 redistricting bill.

    Abbott said the federal court's plan is an unconstitutional intrusion into the legislative process.

    "It seems apparent that the proposed map misapplies federal law and continues the court's trend of inappropriately venturing into political policymaking rather than simply applying the law," Abbott said. "Perhaps worst, in the name of protecting Hispanic voting power, the court seems to be discarding already elected Republican Hispanics in favor of drawing maps that may elect Democratic Hispanics."

    The state's Republican governor, presidential candidate Rick Perry, supported the map passed by the legislature, but has not signed it into law while the plan is challenged in court.

    All states are required to redo their voting boundaries following the recently completed nationwide census, conducted once every 10 years.

    The court-approved plan in Texas will stay in effect until all the legal challenges are exhausted.

    The high court appeal is Perry v. Perez (11A520).