The Austin Chronicle

More Confusion in Redistricting Case

By Richard Whittaker, January 13, 2012, News

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments Jan. 9 in the ongoing Texas redistricting case, but the short-term result is yet more shadows cast over primary season. Justices quizzed lawyers for the state and federal government on the relative legal merits of the redistricting maps passed last session by lawmakers and the more recent maps drawn by a three-judge federal panel in San Antonio. Jose Garza, who argued for the court-drawn maps as lead counsel for the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus, said that the Supremes has previously ruled in favor of court-drawn maps, adding, "If the Supreme Court follows its own precedent, we will prevail."

Travis County Democratic U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett said he was hopeful that the Supreme Court would ultimately approve maps that abided by the Voting Rights Act. However, he noted that he will "continue working actively in San Antonio, Austin, and the entire IH-35 corridor" – a clear indication that he is still campaigning within the gerrymandered lines drawn by the GOP. Yet it is not just the maps that are in question. During oral arguments, the justices raised the possibility that they might wait until the D.C. District Court holds its preclearance hearings on the maps, scheduled to begin Jan. 17, before making their own ruling. This throws the current April 3 primary date – agreed upon by the state Republican and Democratic parties – into doubt. While Justice Stephen Breyer told his fellow justices that the Supreme Court needed to make a ruling by Feb. 1 to allow election officials to prepare for the April 3 primary, Justice Elena Kagan argued that the high court might have to wait for the preclearance ruling, due Feb. 3, before they could move forward. There was even discussion of how far the Texas primaries could be pushed back, and the date of June 26 – the same day as Utah, the final primary state – was raised. Texas Republican Party Chair Steve Munisteri warned his party members there may even be a split primary, telling them that "from my point of view, there is no choice but to have two primaries if you do not have the new Congressional, State House, and Senate lines in time to have an early April primary."

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