- Court will take up Texas redistricting plan
- It was approved by a federal judicial panel
- State officials called it unconstitutional intrusion
- Map increases number of districts dominated by minorities
The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Friday to hear an appeal from Texas officials over the state's controversial redistricting plan.
The order issued by the court blocks for now the maps for the state Legislature and Congress that were created by a federal judicial panel to give minorities greater voting power.
The justices will hear the case on an expedited basis on January 9.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott had filed an emergency "application" last week with the high court, saying a map approved by a federal panel in San Antonio is "fatally flawed."
The court-drawn map was imposed after Democrats and minority groups in Texas challenged the original plan approved by the GOP-led state legislature.
The new court-ordered maps would increase the number of districts dominated by minorities, especially Hispanic voters. Texas is among several mostly Southern states that are required under the landmark Voting Rights Act to have any changes to voting laws or rules approved by the U.S. Justice Department.
Those seeking public office had begun filing their candidacies last week, prompting the state's time-sensitive appeal to the high court. Those candidacies are now on hold until the justices decide the larger issues.
"Elections should not proceed based on legally flawed maps that are likely to be overturned on further review," Abbott said in an earlier written statement.
The Supreme Court's decision to intervene puts the redrawn voting boundaries in political limbo, and will likely compress the time candidates can eventually file and run for office. 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).