AUSTIN – A three-judge federal panel Tuesday upheld a new congressional map for Texas that the Republicans pushed through the Legislature after months of turmoil and two walkouts by the Democrats.
The decision followed a December trial in which Democrats and minority groups argued that the new map tramples the rights of Hispanic and black voters.
But the judges said Democrats failed to prove the plan violates the Constitution or the Voting Rights Act (search), designed to protect minority voters. The opinion also noted that the judges ruled simply on the legality of the Republican plan — not its "wisdom."
"We know it is rough and tumble politics, and we are ever mindful that the judiciary must call the fouls without participating in the game," the judges said.
Democratic Rep. Martin Frost (search), whose district is being decimated under the new map, said the ruling turns "back the clock on nearly 40 years of progress for minority Americans." Democrats had argued the map amounted to a right-wing power grab led by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (search) of Texas.
DeLay said he hopes the Democrats "are now satisfied with the fairness and finality of the federal court decision."
"By fleeing the state twice, employing numerous stalling tactics and groundless legal action, the Democrats have cost taxpayers untold sums of money," he said.
But Democrats and minority groups said they will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court and ask the court to immediately prevent the map from taking effect.
"Only the Supreme Court can put a stop to the dismantling of voting rights that was done in Texas to accommodate the extreme partisan interests that drove the redistricting process," said Gerry Hebert, an attorney for the Democrats.
Republicans expressed relief that they finally got the redistricting plan they wanted — in time for the 2004 elections.
"In 2004, the people of Texas will finally have a congressional delegation that reflects their votes and their views," said state GOP Chairwoman Tina Benkiser.
Texas Democrats held a 17-15 advantage in Congress before Rep. Ralph Hall (search) switched to the Republican Party last week, creating an even split in the delegation. Republicans say the new map could give them a 22-10 advantage.
The judges also rejected the Democrats' claims that the state constitution allows for redistricting once per decade, after Census information is released.
The Legislature failed to act on redistricting during the 2001 session, so a court-drawn plan was adopted.
The Republicans then went to work last year to get another map drawn in the Legislature. Democrats in the House and Senate both staged quorum-breaking walkouts in an attempt to kill GOP-led bills, but the Republicans ultimately prevailed.