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2012-01-04 / Front Page

Redistricting case to be heard at U.S. Supreme Court Monday

By Tim Olmeda tolmeda@king-ranch.com

The U.S. Supreme Court will begin hearing oral arguments Monday in the Texas redistricting case that could shift existing political boundaries for state and congressional seats in Kleberg County.

The Supreme Court will examine whether a threejudge panel in San Antonio overreached its authority when it shelved redistricting maps drawn by the Texas Legislature and came up with completely new boundaries.

Kleberg County Democratic Party Chairman Roberto Villarreal said the state’s maps would make it harder for minorities like Hispanics to elect someone who represents the diversity of the state.

Texas’ population grew by 4.3 million, according to the 2010 U.S. Census, with about 65 percent of that made up of Hispanics. That population increase led to Texas gaining four new congressional seats.

The U.S. Department of Justice has said the state legislature’s maps did not reflect the census data, as none of the new districts accommodated the increase in Hispanic population.

“The way that Republicans redistricted, it actually decreased the ability of Hispanics to get elected to Congress,” Villarreal said.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia that had rejected Texas’ request for a summary judgment in November issued its opinion on the decision last month. The panel had ruled Texas used improper methods to determine the ability of minorities to elect candidates of their choice, putting into question the maps’ compliance with the Voting Rights Act.

“The United States and several Intervenors assert that the proposed Congressional Plan is retrogressive because it fails to recognize adequately the significance of the Hispanic contribution to Texas’ population growth in the last decade,” the judges wrote.

After a lawsuit was filed last year by a coalition of minority groups in San Antonio, judges opted to draw up temporary maps in order to accommodate approaching election deadlines. It is this action that the Supreme Court will look at, as Texas Republicans have said the unelected judges in the San Antonio court exceeded their authority by taking on a role assigned to elected state officials.

Villarreal said he felt the San Antonio court’s maps were fairer than the state’s, and better reflected the population shift over the past 10 years.

“I’m hoping they’ll go with the redistricting (maps) out of San Antonio,” Villarreal said. “But who knows what will happen?”

The situation has already impacted election dates, with the state’s Primary Election being moved to April 3. Candidates were also given a new filing deadline of Feb. 1 to apply for a place on the ballot, but the opening date to file has yet to be determined. That is assuming, however, that the Supreme Court reaches a decision by Jan. 28. If not, those dates and deadlines could change again.

Kleberg County Republican Party Chair Connie Cashen said she is just hoping the issue is resolved soon, as conventions for state political parties have been left in flux as a result of the courts’ decisions.

“I just want it to be decided so we can have a fair election and not have to delay our county conventions and state conventions,” she said. “I want (the maps) to be drawn so that it’s fair for everybody.”

The state’s original redistricting maps kept Kleberg County in House District 43, but the court-drawn boundaries shifted District 43 into Jim Wells County and away from Kleberg County. House District 34, which had been eliminated by the Texas Legislature, was put back in the court’s maps, and included Kleberg County and a large portion of Nueces County.

Oral arguments in the Supreme Court case are expected to take at least two to three days to complete.

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