A panel of federal judges in San Antonio proposed new redistricting maps for the Texas Senate and the Texas House late this afternoon.
The three-judge panel proposed one map for the Texas Senate, and two for the Texas House, one from the court and another from Judge Jerry Smith, who's on the panel and is a member of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. That appears to set up a majority opinion and a minority opinion on the House plan. The judges asked the lawyers on all sides to comment on the proposed maps by noon on Friday. And they didn't issue any proposal, or any information at all, about congressional maps that are also pending before the court.
The House plan with two judges on it — H298 — pairs several House members, meaning there are districts with two incumbents in them, but several of those pairings include members who don't intend to seek re-election. The House map approved by the Legislature included seven pairings; the court's version includes 12. It puts Hispanics in the majority in each of the districts in El Paso County, adds a district in the Hidalgo/Cameron county area, creates a minority coalition district — one where Anglos are the minority — in Central Texas and consolidates districts in Corpus Christi.
"It's not a perfect plan," says Jose Garza, attorney for the Mexican American Legislative Caucus. "It's not the optimum plan ... but it's significantly better than what the state of Texas came up with on a number of fronts."
A spokeswoman for Attorney General Greg Abbott, whose office is defending the legislative maps, didn't comment on the content of the proposals. "We have received the court's proposed interim maps and are reviewing them and working to prepare a response as requested by the court," Lauren Bean said via email.
It gives Houston Democratic Reps. Hubert Vo and Scott Hochberg their own districts — instead pairing Republicans Beverly Woolley, who's not seeking re-election, and Jim Murphy, who is. According to attorneys for the MALC, the court's map also creates a new Hispanic district in Harris County.
Two Republicans — Geannie Morrison of Victoria and Todd Hunter of Corpus Christi — are paired in the court's proposed House map, which also retains a pairing of Corpus Christi Republicans Connie Scott and Raul Torres. Reps. Erwin Cain of Como and Dan Flynn of Van remain paired.
The other pairings in the court's House map each involve at least one member who is either moving or isn't seeking re-election, either because they want to get out of politics or because they're seeking another office.
"This is significantly more than we were able to accomplish on the floor," says state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio and the chairman of MALC.
Several districts were changed in ways that could make them more competitive, according to Matt Angle with the Democratic Lone Star Project. "It put back in play several districts in Dallas County," he says, and at first glance, the new map appears to include 60 districts in which Barack Obama got 50 percent or more in the 2008 election. The current House has 49 Democrats in it.
The biggest change in the Senate map is in Tarrant County, where Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, appears to have had most of her current district restored. The legislative map drew her into decidedly Republican territory. "The Senate map is a big win for Fort Worth and for Wendy Davis," Angle says. "She has a chance to replicate that  coalition in 2012 and probably will. She clearly from a political standpoint is the winner here."