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DC court asks for more information in Texas redistricting case

Wednesday, March 7, 2012 by Michael Kanin

Just when Texas officials thought they had a May 29 date for a primary election, judges in Washington D.C. wants to take another look at things. The court charged with pre-clearing Texas electoral maps under the Voting Rights Act on Tuesday asked litigants to prepare briefs on the validity of maintaining a coalition district in U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett‘s (D-Austin) 25th Congressional District.


That news comes following a difficult redistricting process that just last week produced a firm primary date. The D.C. court’s request – which specifically asks for a “fuller explanation” from one of the parties about the reasoning behind its belief that CD-25 is primarily an Anglo district – gives Travis County officials hope that the D.C. court could differ from the most recent ruling by a Federal Court in San Antonio. It remains unclear if such a ruling would further delay the Texas primary.


Despite all of that action, Travis County officials told the Commissioners Court that they are ready to begin the mailing of voter registration certificates at the beginning of April. According to officials, county residents should have the certificates well before the May 12 City of Austin elections.


State Attorney General Greg Abbott argues that the new maps, which split Austin into five congressional districts and splinters Doggett’s 25th, are legal. He is joined in that interpretation by members of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, one of the new maps’ original challengers. Travis County, however, seems ready to argue that the district is an established coalition district – an area that hosts a coalition of minorities and Anglos that vote together to form a majority — and is therefore protected by section five of the Voting Rights Act.


The D.C. court requested briefs from the parties by March 13. Should it side with Travis County, and reestablish Doggett’s 25th, the ruling would differ substantially from the one delivered by the San Antonio court, which most recently ruled for the legislature’s original, five district treatment of Austin. Though that could provoke additional action by San Antonio Court, that may not happen until next year.


On Tuesday, Travis County Attorney David Escamilla filed a brief with the San Antonio court that reportedly points to the D.C. court’s request for more detail. In its ruling the U.S. Supreme Court instructed the San Antonio court to defer to the D.C. court when drawing the maps. A ruling that reinstates Doggett’s district from the D.C. court could thus complicate matters.


Which is to say: the possibility remains that the primary date could be delayed again. That eventuality would result if the San Antonio court decides it needs to reconcile the D.C. court’s maps with its own before this year’s primary. Officials believe that they could still hold a primary at the end of June, should any adjustments be made to the maps, as long the parties agree to something firm by March 31. No later dates have yet been discussed.

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