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Texas redistricting case begins Tuesday, with judges committed to quick resolution

The battle over Texas’ newest Congressional district map goes live Tuesday in a San Antonio courtroom, following months of challenges by civil rights groups and Democratic lawmakers. Judges on the case have committed to wrapping it up quickly.

Challengers to the maps say the Republican-dominated Legislature deliberately played down the effects of Texas’ Latino population boom over the last decade, shuffling districts to cement GOP power and pool minority-dominated areas into as few districts as possible.

The three-judge panel in San Antonio will consider newly drawn maps for U.S. Congressional districts and Texas House districts, the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal reported today. While Democrats and minority groups argue Texas needs more districts that favor black and Latino representation, Republican lawmakers — represented by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott — say their plan is kosher.

At a pre-trial hearing Thursday, judges said they expect the case to last just nine days, according to the Austin American-Statesman:

One of the plaintiffs, state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, said a quick resolution is important for the political process. This November, voters will go to the polls to pass judgment on several proposed constitutional amendments. But those who will run in the March 2012 primaries have begun announcing their candidacies and in some cases are already campaigning. For example, U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, and state Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, already are wooing voters in the proposed District 35 seat.

“People want to know what their district will look like,” Rodriguez said. “They want to know who they’ll be voting for.”

Doggett has joined in the legal challenge to the new maps, as has Castro indirectly, as a member of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus. State Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) and Rep. Marc Veasey (D-Fort Worth) have also intervened to challenge districts in North Texas.

The run-up to the court battle has already shed new light on the Texas Congressional delegation’s role in the process, including emails subpoenaed from staff members who sound skeptical that the new maps would pass a federal test. As Linda Campbell wrote in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

In June, Dub Maines, an aide to U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Arlington, complained that a map approved by a Texas House committee had “next to no chance” of getting the federal preclearance that the Voting Rights Act requires for new electoral districts to go into effect.

Maines also called an idea floating around to challenge the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act “high-risk poker with no discernible positive return.”

The National Journal took a long look at the Texas governor’s involvement in the map Democrats slam as “Perrymandering,” and the possibility that the court’s rejection of the maps could reflect poorly on the frontrunner for the GOP’s presidential nomination.

If the state’s map is rejected, Assistant Attorney General David Mattax told the court Thursday it’d be up to judges to draft a new one, because running the process through a special legislative session would take too long.

In a separate case, a Washington court must also consider whether the maps can pass federal “pre-clearance” according to the 1965 Voting Rights Act — a test to ensure any changes to Texas voting laws don’t create barriers to minority representation. That case still hasn’t been scheduled.

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