With hearings on redistricting scheduled for next week and deadlines for April primaries pending, a panel of federal judges told lawyers Friday afternoon to redouble their efforts to reach a quick settlement on interim political maps for the state's congressional and legislative elections.
That's not the first time they've told the lawyers to talk, but negotiations stalled this week when the state and some plaintiffs reached an agreement that several other plaintiffs didn't like.
In their order this afternoon, the judges said that proposal is still very much alive. They said they want to set an April primary. And they want negotiations to resume "with all due effort" before the hearings that begin next Tuesday.
The judges included a footnote to their order that refers to a Supreme Court decision in a North Carolina case: It says the Voting Rights Act doesn't require political mapmakers to create so-called "coalition districts" where two or more minority groups might combine to form a majority. They're allowed, but not required. According to Rick Hasen, a professor at the University of California at Irvine School of Law, it means the state can leave existing coalition districts alone, but doesn't have to create new ones. That could undermine some of the arguments made by various plaintiffs in the Texas case and restrict the settlement talks to districts where Black or Latino voters can form majorities on their own.
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The court's Friday order:
As the parties know, the Court will hold a hearing on this matter on Tuesday, February 14, 2012, and quite possibly Wednesday, February 15, 2012. Contrary to any misconceptions, neither the State's recent compromise proposal nor any of the parties' proposals have been rejected at this juncture. It is the Court's desire to have redistricting plans in place for an April primary and all parties must continue their negotiations to assist the Court in accomplishing that task. If the parties have ceased negotiations, they should resume with all due effort between now and the time of the hearing. In their negotiations, the parties should be reminded of the dictates of the Supreme Court by which this Court will be bound, which include the rather flexible standards of review that may be applied on one hand and the restrictive language regarding the creation of new coalition districts on the other hand. Should the parties fail to reach an agreement prior to the hearing, the parties will be expected to resume negotiations at the courthouse upon conclusion of the hearing. The panel will accomodate the parties in what ever way necessary, and all necessary parties are expected to have a person with binding settlement authority either in attendance or available by telephone.
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