AUSTIN, Texas – A federal court on Thursday issued temporary political maps for the 2012 election in Texas that some say will give Democrats a greater chance of winning seats in the Legislature.
The maps, which still must be given final court approval, will remain in place for state House and Senate districts until there is a resolution to lawsuits filed over the Legislature's proposals -- likely through the 2012 elections. The court is expected to also release a proposal for new congressional districts.
Republicans have acknowledged they are not likely to hold on to the 101-49 supermajority they have in the Texas House. Still Democrats argue that the GOP map drawers went too far in trying to preserve their power.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott's office, which is representing the state, was reviewing the maps and "working to prepare a response as directed by the court," spokeswoman Lauren Bean said.
Democrats and minorities have complained that the maps drawn by the Republican-controlled Legislature prevent minority groups from electing their choice of candidate.
But state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer -- who is chairman of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, one of the plaintiffs -- said the court's proposal "reflects the natural demographic progression in a state that is changing day by day."
"If adopted by this court, this will be the greatest expansion of minority opportunity in the history of the Texas House of Representatives."
Attorneys were still analyzing the maps Thursday evening. The court order from a three-judge panel in San Antonio requested that parties file comments and objections by noon Friday. Judge Jerry Smith dissented and submitted an alternate map.
"We're still sort of adding up all the numbers, but it appears that we've restored the (Hispanic) districts that had been either eliminated or diminished in state's plan," said Jose Garza, an attorney for MALC.
One of the biggest changes was in Senate District 10, which Republicans had drawn so that Democrat state Sen. Wendy Davis would face little chance for re-election. Davis had argued before the federal court that the map discriminated against minorities in her district. The court apparently agreed, and largely restored her district to its original boundaries.
"The map that the state Legislature passed really disenfranchised so many members of the Senate District 10 community and they will no longer have had a voice in electing someone to represent them," Davis said. "What the court did today was to restore their voice."
The San Antonio court already has pushed the candidate filing period back to Nov. 28 while the litigation unfolds.
A resolution in the San Antonio case is being held up by a separate case in Washington, in which a federal court refused to approve the maps. That court agreed with the U.S. Department of Justice that there was sufficient evidence to question whether the new maps hurt minority representation. That cleared the way for a trial and all but guarantees the 2012 elections will be conducted with temporary, court-drawn maps.
"These maps are a step forward for Texas voters and underscore the importance of the Voting Rights Act," said Anthony Gutierrez, spokesman for the Texas Democratic Party. "We're pleased that the judges took all the evidence into consideration and stood up for the voters."
District boundaries are redrawn every 10 years to reflect changes in census data. The legal fight centers around a requirement in the 1965 federal Voting Rights Act that certain states with a history of discrimination, including Texas, be granted "preclearance" before changes in voting practices can be enacted.
The legal standard is whether proposed changes have the purpose or effect of diminishing voting rights based on race or color.
The Justice Department contends Texas' legislative and congressional maps are retrogressive, meaning minority voters' ability to elect their candidates of choice is diminished.