Texas bypassed the Obama administration's Department of Justice on Tuesday, opting to ask a panel of federal judges in Washington, D.C., to review the state's new maps for congressional, legislative and State Board of Education districts.
"The state's redistricting plans have neither the purpose nor will they have the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority," the state's lawyers said in their filing.
Abbott asked the courts for preclearance but also informally filed papers with the Justice Department "to facilitate and expedite disposition of this matter." Federal law allows the state to choose between the two venues for Section 5 approval. Some lawyers read the dual filing differently than the state does. "The way I read it, the state filed with the Department of Justice and filed a protective lawsuit with the courts," said Renea Hicks, a veteran of previous redistricting fights who is involved in one of several challenges to the new Texas maps.
The state faces multiple lawsuits over the four maps approved this year by the state Legislature (the last of those, for new congressional districts, was signed into law by Gov. Rick Perry on Monday). Several of those cases have been consolidated under a three-judge panel in San Antonio, and those judges, in turn, have set a Sept. 6 trial date. Several other suits could be pulled into that same arena before the trial date.
The plaintiffs sued for various reasons, asking the courts to count prison inmates in the counties where they were arrested instead of in the prisons where they are held, to throw out or adjust the maps so that minority voters have more control over who gets elected in more districts, to match the growth in the number of minority seats to the growth of minorities in the state population, to adjust the numbers to account for legal and illegal residents of the state, and so on.
One of the plaintiffs — the Mexican American Legislative Caucus — called the AG's filing "disappointing." MALC Chairman Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, issued a statement shortly after Abbott's announcement:
Today’s decision by Attorney General Greg Abbott to bypass the Department of Justice and instead seek to seat a three judge panel was expected but is nonetheless disappointing.
Considering that the Department of Justice was sufficient for the State of Texas during the redistricting process in 2001 and 2003, I find it curious that the Department of Justice of 2011 has suddenly fallen out of favor and that General Abbott has selected to engage in a process that is exponentially more expensive and will ultimately impact the 2012 election calendar here in Texas.
MALC's sole focus is to allow Latinos the opportunity to vote for the candidate of their choice. We are proud to have had our boots on the ground first and look forward to shaping the way redistricting occurs in Texas. Make no mistake; MALC will take a backseat to no one when it comes to fighting for Texas Latinos. Our legal team is currently reviewing the submission and will be available for comment at a later time.