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Last Hand Dealt in Texas

Democrats File One More Redistricting Appeal With Supreme Court

In a largely unnoticed move earlier this month, Texas Democrats played their final card in the long-running redistricting battle, formally filing an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court arguing that the state’s new Congressional lines are in direct violation of the Voting Rights Act.

“The Republican map and the lower court’s decision that affirmed it effectively repeals the Voting Right Act,” said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Greg Speed.

But even if the high court agrees to hear the Democrats’ case, it will be too late to affect the district boundaries in the 2004 Congressional elections.

The latest appeal centers on allegations that the Republican-led redistricting plan, which was passed through a GOP Legislature and signed by Gov. Rick Perry (R) late last year, shrinks the number of majority-minority districts from 11 to 10.

Under the Voting Rights Act, the total number of minority opportunity districts in a state cannot be reduced in the redistricting process.

But Jonathan Grella, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), said that while Democrats continue to cast themselves as champions for the minority community their legal strategy is “hypocritically trampling on minority opportunities to represent Texas in Congress.”

DeLay was the chief architect of the new Texas map, which was passed after three special sessions of the state Legislature. The plan jeopardizes the political career of every white Democrat in the state’s delegation.

The state of Texas has until May 5 to respond to the latest appeal, with Democrats hoping the court will agree to take the case by late May. Under the timetable, oral arguments would be heard late this year.

Any decision would not affect the map in place for this November’s election.

The revelation of the latest Democratic appeal comes just one day after the Supreme Court rejected another redistricting-related appeal on Monday.

That appeal centered on Democrats’ claims that the passage of the bill by a simple majority in the Texas Senate violated the traditions of the Legislature, which had previously required a two-thirds majority for approval of redistricting bills.

In the wake of that ruling, Democrats scrambled to assure their Caucus that the final verdict had not been issued on redistricting.

Rep. Martin Frost (D-Texas), who has led the Democratic redistricting efforts both in Texas and nationally, will distribute a “Dear Colleague” letter to his Caucus today explaining that the issue remains live.

“The decision by the U.S. Supreme Court yesterday in the Barrientos v. Texas case will have no impact on the current challenge to the Texas Congressional redistricting lines,” Frost wrote.

Frost also attached a memo from Democratic attorney Jerry Hebert further explaining the status of the appeal.

“Still pending before the U.S. Supreme Court are the much more substantive appeals that were filed two weeks ago,” Hebert said.

Grella dismissed the latest Democratic move.

“Their claims fly in the face of the Republican plan, which will boost minority representation and already has,” Grella said.

In the March 9 Democratic primary, former Houston Justice of the Peace Al Green, who is black, defeated Rep. Chris Bell, a white freshman legislator, in a district made considerably more black in the new map.

Rep. Ciro Rodriguez (D) also appears to have lost to former Texas Secretary of State Henry Cuellar (D) in a primary although the Congressman has filed a lawsuit alleging voter fraud.

Both Rodriguez and Cuellar are Latinos.

The new district lines also led to the retirement of 2nd district Rep. Jim Turner (D) and the party switch of 4th district Rep. Ralph Hall (R).

Frost as well as Rep. Charlie Stenholm (D) must run against Republican incumbents in GOP-tilting districts, while Democratic Reps. Max Sandlin, Nick Lampson and Chet Edwards all face serious challenges in Republican-leaning seats.

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