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Between the Lines: Sessions Wants to Work Out Lines in Texas

National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions struck a cooperative tone Tuesday for working with the Justice Department to ensure the state’s controversial Congressional map complies with the Voting Rights Act.

“We’ll very much want to work with the Department of Justice and the court to make sure we’ll be in full compliance with the law,” Sessions said in a brief interview.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott insisted last week that the state’s new Congressional map adheres to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. But on Monday, in its response to Texas in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the Justice Department declared that the map did not.

Many Texas Republican House Members, including Sessions, kept quiet about the redistricting while the Justice Department considered its response. Now Sessions said he’s considering “how we may make appropriate changes that are necessary” to ensure a legal map.

“It was the opinion of the Attorney General of the State of Texas at the time the map was drawn, that they felt like it and we felt like it would be in compliance, not only with the Voting Rights Act, but really the spirit of the Republican Party in how we attempted to redistrict Texas,” Sessions said.

The Justice Department declined to divulge any specific details about its opinion, such as which parts of the map should be redrawn. But sources on both sides of the aisle speculated there are two areas of concern.

“It’s fair to assume that they will certainly object to district 23 and there will probably be objections focused on north Texas,” said Matt Angle, a Democratic strategist and Texas redistricting expert.

There is concern about whether Hispanic turnout in the new 23rd district would be sufficient for a majority-minority district and about whether Dallas should have a second majority-minority district.

Both parties were scheduled to discuss a timetable for a trial late Wednesday. The timing is particularly important for Texas’ early election calendar.

Even if the federal trial finishes before filing commences in mid-November, there’s a separate redistricting case pending in San Antonio’s federal court. Those judges will not rule on their case until the District of Columbia’s District Court makes a call.

As a result, it’s looking increasingly likely that Texas lawmakers will be forced to move back their primary calendar — again. That’s not uncommon in Texas, Angle said.

In 2003, officials moved the filing deadline back a few weeks because redistricting legislation was stuck in court. In 1996, a late Texas map ruling forced officials to cancel primaries for some Congressional districts. Instead, candidates ran in nonpartisan November races with a runoff contest if no one garnered a majority of the vote.

New Mexico Map Clears First Hurdle, But Its Future Is Unclear

The state Senate passed a Congressional redistricting plan 27-14 on Monday.

According to the Associated Press, Republican legislators opposed the new lines because they would strengthen the Democrats’ hold on the Albuquerque-based 1st district. Under the new map, the 2nd district would remain solidly Republican and the 3rd district would stay solidly Democratic.

Republican objections included cutting the GOP-leaning Torrance County out of the 1st district and moving it into the 3rd district.

The traditionally Republican 1st district ended its streak of GOP representation in 2008, when Rep. Martin Heinrich (D) won by 12 points and President Barack Obama carried it by 21 points. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) won it in 2004 by 3 points.

The plan now must go before the
Democratic-controlled state House. Its path forward gets dicey from there, as Republican Gov. Susana Martinez is armed with veto power.

Faith Leaders Urge Action in Massachusetts Redistricting

In the state where gerrymandering got its name, there’s a history of finding unusual ways for groups to get the desired outcome in the redistricting process. But this might be a first: a prayer rally.

Clergy and politicians rallied and prayed in Boston this week to push for a fair and equitable redistricting process for minority communities.

“It is very, very important that we have districts that are drawn to empower … the communities we represent,” said Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson, who was at the rally.

“We want a district that gives a person of color an opportunity to run as well as win,” Jackson said.

Massachusetts has never elected an African-American or Latino Member of Congress. About 8 percent of Bay State residents are black, and 10 percent are Hispanic, according to 2010 census data.

Jackson said having clergy at the rally was essential.

“Faith without works is dead, so it is very important that we have a community of faith leaders who not only deal with issues inside the walls of their churches,” he said, but also are active on issues that help make sure their flocks’ “voices are heard. And that’s what comes out of this meeting.”

In July, state Rep. Michael Moran (D), the House co-chairman of the Joint Committee on Redistricting, told Roll Call that under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, the committee would have to be particularly careful about how the 8th district — now anchored in Boston and held by Rep. Mike Capuano (D) — is redrawn.

Massachusetts lost a seat in reapportionment. Because none of the Members of the all-Democratic House delegation appear likely to retire, at least two Democrats will be drawn together by the new map.

State Sen. Stan Rosenberg (D), the Senate co-chairman of the redistricting committee, hopes to have all the new maps, including the Congressional one, completed before Thanksgiving, his office said.

Majority-Minority District Wanted by Nevada GOP

Carson City District Judge James Russell ordered three redistricting special masters appointed by the court to complete their first map by Oct. 21.

As the Las Vegas Sun reported, the order came at a Wednesday hearing to begin the process of redrawing the state’s Congressional and legislative lines. In drawing the four Congressional districts, the central argument is whether the Voting Rights Act mandates that one district be majority-minority.

Republicans say it does, and Democrats say it doesn’t. The Democratic-controlled Legislature passed two plans that spread Latino voters across multiple districts, but Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) vetoed both.

Russell heard both sides’ arguments Wednesday and said he would issue a written opinion, which is expected to come within the next month, the Sun reported.

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