On Feb. 6 Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott proposed interim redistricting maps that would make half of Texas' four new congressional seats Hispanic-controlled, a move that could preserve an April primary.
The San Antonio Federal Court had urged a compromise on a plan with the state by Feb. 6 to uphold an April 3 primary date following the Supreme Court's rejection of their proposed maps. Abbott's plan met the deadline, but he said the most likely result was a primary sometime in April, possibly April 17.
The agreement was reached with seven parties who are a part of the Texas Latino Redistricting Task Force. Several groups, however, were not listed as parties to the Feb. 6 agreement, including the Mexican American Legislative Caucus (MALC), the Black Legislative Caucus and the NAACP.
“The map that you will see reflects tremendous progress that has been made by the state as well as all of the parties,” Abbott said. “Even though this agreement did not receive the sign-off by some other Latino-based groups, we know from what they told us, this largely satisfies what they were really seeking.”
The Texas Democratic Party issued a statement in response.
"We're greatly disappointed the Attorney General did not deal in good faith with all parties involved," a release issued by the state Democratic Party stated. "We are not in agreement to the maps released by the Attorney General, and we do not expect that these maps will be used for the 2012 election."
MALC Chairman Trey Martinez Fischer issued that group's own response.
“MALC worked in good faith with General Abbott in hopes of arriving at a compromise that reflected the changing diversity of our state in a manner acceptable to all parties," Martinez Fischer stated. "Unfortunately negotiations stalled when it became apparent some parties in these discussions had a narrow and at times unrealistic view of the evidence presented at trial."
"The maps proposed by the Attorney General today are a beginning point, not an end," the Chairman added.
While Abbott said he is confident the primary elections would take place in April, he could not say whether the date would remain April 3. He predicted more information would be known by the end of the week.
The Hispanic-controlled seats under the agreement would include Congressional District 35, the old district of U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, which runs from Austin to San Antonio, as well as CD 33, a Fort Worth-area district.
Results of the 2010 census indicating the state’s population had earned Texas four more congressional seats sparked chaos in the already tricky redistricting process.
Federal lawsuits have since halted the enactment of new maps drawn by the Republican-dominated state Legislature, originally delaying the primaries from March 6 to April 3 and threatening further delays.
Texas is among the states that must get preclearance on redistricting maps by the U.S. Department of Justice under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, according to the Texas Legislative Council. However, the state did not submit the maps to the DOJ for preclearance and, instead, petitioned a U.S. District Court for a declaratory judgment validating the redistricting plans.
The petition was denied and a U.S. District Court in Washington D.C. held a trial Jan. 17–31. The court issued a statement saying a decision was not likely in February.
Meanwhile, separate lawsuits were filed in state and federal courts by opponents of the redistricting maps who claim the maps violate the U.S. Constitution as well as Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act by diluting minority voting power.
Some of the lawsuits were consolidated and heard in September by a U.S. District Court in San Antonio. The three-judge panel redrew the state’s maps and submitted them to the Supreme Court as proposed interim plans.
On Jan. 20, after hearing arguments on interim maps, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the San Antonio court’s maps citing the insertion of the judges’ own preferences. The court instructed them to redraw the maps to more closely resemble the state’s plan but to not incorporate legal defects.
While Abbott said today's agreement does not represent an official settlement, he did say that, if the maps agreed on today are the final maps proposed, neither the state nor the Latino Redistricting Task Force would object, allowing the court to proceed quickly.
“I’m confident that the map is one that will satisfy Section 5 and Section 2 scrutiny,” Abbott stated.
The San Antonio Court has a status conference hearing scheduled for Feb. 15 to go over the interim maps and election schedule.
Maps can be viewed online at the Texas Legislative Council.