Texas election map fight goes before Supreme Court

WASHINGTON Fri Jan 6, 2012 5:44pm EST

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Supreme Court next week will step into a partisan battle over remapping congressional districts in Texas, the court's first review of political boundary-drawing resulting from the 2010 U.S. census, with elections ahead in November.

At issue in Monday 's arguments will be whether Texas uses maps drawn by a U.S. court in San Antonio favoring Democrats and minorities, or maps drawn by the Republican-dominated state legislature, in the 2012 congressional and state elections.

Texas Republican officials appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that a lower court had overstepped its authority in coming up with its own redistricting plan and that it should have deferred to the state legislature's plan.

The Obama administration for the most part has supported the state Democratic Party and groups representing Hispanics and blacks before the Supreme Court, saying that parts of the state's plan violated the federal voting rights law.

Redrawing the Texas districts has become a major political and legal issue. The state's population went up by more than 20 percent, or 4.2 million people, over the past decade, with Hispanics accounting for 2.8 million of the increase.

After the 2010 census, Texas got four new congressional seats, giving it a total of 36. The state legislature's plan, signed by Texas Governor Rick Perry, a Republican presidential candidate, created only one new heavily Hispanic district.

Voting rights experts, such as Sidney Rosdeitcher at the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, said the Texas case was extremely important.

It "will not only have significant political consequences for the four Texas congressional seats that are at the heart of the controversy, but will affect the voting rights of millions of Latino and other minority voters," he said.

The legal battle already has caused Texas to push back its primary elections to April 3 from March 6 because of uncertainty over which maps will be used.

The interim maps drawn by the judges in Texas were designed to remain in place until a different court in Washington, D.C., decides whether the state's redistricting plan should be approved or rejected. A trial in that case is set to start January 17.

The Supreme Court in the Texas case will not be addressing the constitutionality of the landmark federal voting rights law aimed at protecting minorities in states with a history of racial discrimination.

But legal challenges to that law are pending in lower courts and are expected to eventually reach the high court.

The Supreme Court cases are Perry v. Perez, No 11-713; Perry v. Davis, No. 11-714, and Perry v. Perez, No. 11-715.

(Reporting By James Vicini; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Eric Walsh)

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