Federal Court: Discrimination in Texas Voting Maps

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The ruling is the latest in a process that started in June 2011, when the Texas Legislature passed new political maps but failed to get them "pre-cleared" by the Justice department. That's required under the federal Voting Rights Act which calls for Texas and eight other, predominantly southern, states with a history of racial bias to submit their political maps to the Justice Department for compliance.

But rather than submit the maps to the department, the state chose to seek preclearance through the Washington court.

Nina Perales, attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, said Tuesday's ruling seems to show the state's strategy backfired. MALDEF also was one of the groups that sued the state.

"It seems that Texas risked and lost more by going to the D.C. court than by going to DOJ," Perales said. "Particularly when you factor in the enormous expense of litigating a redistricting case."

The ruling comes months after lawyers for the state of Texas, the Justice Department and minority groups argued their sides in front of a three-judge panel in Washington. The two-week trial included dozens of witnesses as well as thousands of pages of documents on the redistricting process.

Texas' argument boiled down to politics: The state's lawyers said the map crafted by the Legislature reflected a GOP majority seeking to squeeze a partisan advantage out of the once-a-decade redistricting process, not a willful disregard for the Voting Rights Act. The state also maintained that lawmakers kept a cool distance from the process, leaving much of the work of drawing districts to legislative staff.

Through the trial, the three-judge panel appeared skeptical of Texas' arguments. The presiding judge, Rosemary Collyer, at one point told Texas' lawyers flatly, "It's really hard to explain (changes to the map) other than doing it on the basis of reducing minority votes."

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