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State's legal foes seek new Texas congressional map for 2018

Groups suing Texas over its political maps have asked a federal court to ensure new congressional districts are drawn ahead of the November 2018 elections.

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Groups suing Texas over its political maps are asking a federal court to block the state's current congressional boundaries ahead of the November 2018 elections.

Texas NAACP, African American Congresspersons, Mexican American Legislative Caucus and other plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed a motion Thursday to jumpstart the map-drawing. The filing came nearly two weeks after a ruling from a three-judge panel in San Antonio found that racial discrimination tainted three districts lawmakers drew in 2011.

That ruling essentially found the districts invalid, but it did not order anyone to immediately create a new map, leaving lawmakers without urgency to take action as this year's legislative session winds down.

But plaintiffs sought to ratchet up the pressure Thursday. They asked the court to order Texas to propose map fixes by May 5, plaintiffs to offer a proposal by May 12 and for all proceedings to be wrapped up by July 1.

“It is urgent that a scheduling order be entered promptly,” the motion states, noting that filing for the 2018 congressional elections begins in November.

Lawyers for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton have indicated they oppose such a plan, according to Thursday’s motion.

Judges have found fault with Congressional District 23, which stretches from San Antonio to El Paso, takes in most of the Texas-Mexico border and is represented by Republican Will Hurd of Helotes; Congressional District 27, represented by Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi; and Congressional District 35, a Central Texas district represented by Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin.

Mapdrawers “acted with an impermissible intent to dilute minority voting strength” in some districts, the majority ruled. This included “packing” and “cracking” minority populations in certain districts to reduce their influence across the larger electoral map.

Experts call it huge that the judges found "intentional" discrimination in the congressional map — a condition that could ultimately put Texas back on the list of states that need permission to change their election laws.

Texas has conducted elections with a court-approved interim map drawn in 2013. Judges still haven’t ruled on it, and it’s not clear when they will. But striking down that map is something a formality, experts say, because the boundaries of two of its districts — Farenthold’s 27th and Doggett’s 35th — are identical to those drawn in 2011.

In a statement, the Lone Star Project, a Democratically aligned political action committee, expressed optimism that Thursday’s filing would speed up efforts for a new map.  

“The federal court in San Antonio has made clear time and again that they will protect the rights of Texans, and the plaintiffs have laid out a common-sense process to put a legal map in place,” said Matt Angle, the group's director.

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