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Redistricting Lawyers Agree on Senate Maps

UPDATED: Election officials were told to prepare for a possible May 29 primary, as redistricting foes reached agreement on a map for Texas Senate elections this afternoon and continued talks on state House and congressional maps.

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Update, 2:10 p.m.: The primaries won't be held until May 29, the judges said after a brief recess. Judge Jerry Smith said an April date appears to be impossible, and asked the lawyers for the political parties and the Secretary of State to pull together details for filing deadlines and such assuming May 29 will be the date. He also said that it's not a certainty; they still don't have all the maps they need to hold an election.

Original story:

SAN ANTONIO — Redistricting foes reached agreement on a statewide map for Texas Senate elections this afternoon and continued working on state House and congressional maps.

The fight over the Senate map was all about Tarrant County's Senate District 10, where Democrat Wendy Davis is the incumbent. Under their agreement, they'll leave the district alone, leaving Davis with the same plan that put her in office. It's a marginally Republican district that voted for John McCain for president in 2008 and for Rick Perry for governor in 2010. But for Davis, who had been drawn into a more hostile district by her fellow legislators, the deal is a win.

The lawyers presented it as an "interim" plan, meaning they reserve the right to fight again when permanent maps are drawn. But if it's approved by the court, this will be the map used for the 2012 elections.

That was a bright spot in a day when the lawyers and judges trudged through the lists of differences over political districts for legislative and congressional seats. The judges put the lawyers through their paces, asking them to make their arguments on congressional maps district by district.

With the incumbent in the middle of the gallery, the lawyers argued over Congressional District 25, a district that is either safe for or hostile to U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin. It depends on the map.

In the proposal offered by the state and accepted by some of the  plaintiffs — notably, the Texas Latino Redistricting Task Force — Doggett would find himself in a Republican district that stretches from Hays County, south of Austin, north to Tarrant County. He would probably run in a newly created Congressional District 35, which includes eastern Travis County and runs south to San Antonio. It's Democratic, but designed to give Latino voters a bigger say in who goes to Congress.

Attorneys for Doggett and for several of the minority plaintiffs argued that his district gives minority voters a choice and as a result is protected by the federal Voting Rights Act. Attorneys for the state, and for the Latino Task Force, argued that it's not a protected district and that the changes make it easier to draw a new minority seat.

In Congressional District 27, the plaintiffs argue that the state stranded more than 200,000 Latino voters, again in violation of the voting laws. But the state said that the adjacent congressional district is a new minority seat and that there aren't enough people in that area to draw two such seats.

In Congressional District 33, an inkblot of a district that straddles the Tarrant-Dallas county line, the plaintiffs said the state packed black voters into another district and denied them more say in the new seat. The state said that district was drawn to accommodate growing populations and not to create a new minority district, and said the plaintiffs were trying — there and in Congressional District 23 in south and west Texas — to draw new seats for Democrats and not for minorities.

The arguments were tailored to each district but had a similar underpinning. The state said it drew minority opportunity districts where it had to, either because they already existed or because population growth required it. The plaintiffs said the state ignored opportunities to draw more minority districts.

The judges are trying to get maps in place so they can set primary dates. As late as last week, they were hoping to hold primaries in April. But election administrators testified Tuesday that setting primaries any time in April would be setting them up for failure. They recommended holding the elections on May 22, May 29 or June 26.

The Texas judges — 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Jerry Smith of Houston, and federal judges Orlando Garcia and Xavier Rodriguez of San Antonio — have to guess what their colleagues in a Washington, D.C., court might do. The Washington court is deciding whether the maps enacted by the Legislature undermine existing power of minority voters. Without a ruling from that court, the Texas judges have to guess at what might be in a ruling, and to incorporate that with their own judgment about other aspects of the maps. They're working to put interim maps into place that can be used this year, with the understanding that there will probably be more remapping ahead. 

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