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US Supreme Court takes up Texas redistricting case

The case involves four new congressional seats and the rising political clout of Latinos in Texas, a state with a history of racial discrimination. Republicans say a map redrawn by a panel of federal judges usurps the role of elected officials.

By Staff writer / December 10, 2011

Census Bureau Director Robert Groves announces results for the 2010 US Census at the National Press Club Dec. 21, 2010. Political districts are redrawn on the basis of the latest US Census.

Jacquelyn Martin/AP

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The US Supreme Court has agreed to intervene in a fight over how best to redraw legislative districts in Texas, taking up an emergency election-year appeal involving four new congressional seats and the rising political clout of Latinos in the state.

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The high court announced late on Friday it would hear an appeal filed by Texas Republicans over whether a panel of federal judges in San Antonio acted properly when it replaced the Texas legislature’s congressional redistricting map with their own map.

The judges’ map creates districts that appear to favor Latino candidates and Democrats in at least three of the state’s four new congressional seats.

Under the map drawn by the Republican-controlled legislature, the number of Latino and black-leaning districts remained unchanged from existing congressional districts.

At issue before the court is whether the judges were authorized to redraw legislative districts – and disregard the work of the elected legislature – without first determining that the proposed districts violated either constitutional guarantees or the requirements of the Voting Rights Act.

The court stayed all orders issued by the panel in San Antonio and set oral argument for January 9.

The action leaves the Texas political landscape unsettled and could require state officials to postpone Texas’ March primary.

Bitter fights over redistricting in Texas are nothing new. The high court last examined gerrymandering in Texas in a 2006 case. The current battle stems from an effort to allocate the state’s significant population growth equally among election districts.

Every ten years states are required to redraw their legislative districts to reflect population changes. The Texas population increased by 4.3 million in the 2010 census. The increase qualifies the state for four additional congressional seats, boosting the state’s congressional delegation from 32 to 36 members.

Hispanics made up 65 percent of the state’s new residents, but the state legislature declined to draw any of the new districts to reflect that increase.

An analysis by the Justice Department’s civil rights division showed that districts likely to elect a minority candidate account for 31.3 percent of congressional seats currently, but that under the Republican-legislature’s new plan they would be only 27.7 percent of seats.

A coalition of minority groups filed suit in San Antonio, claiming the plan violated the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act by diluting minority political power.

At the same time, Texas officials were seeking approval in Washington. Because Texas has a history of racial discrimination, the state must obtain pre-approval before enacting any changes to its election system.

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