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Between the Lines: Courts Speed Time Table for Texas Primary

A federal court rescheduled closing arguments for the state’s map preclearance trial to Jan. 31 in an effort to maintain the April 3 primary date, according to the Associated Press.

Meanwhile, a separate federal court in San Antonio pushed both parties to agree on a new Congressional map before Feb. 6 if they want to keep the primary date as scheduled.

Officials rushed to finish the Texas mapmaking process because the Supreme Court ruled on Jan. 21 to reject an interim map drawn by the San Antonio court.

Texas will pick up four new House seats in this year because of population increase, especially in the state’s Hispanic community. It also is one of nine states that requires approval from the Justice Department or a federal court before enforcing its map under the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia is not expected to grant preclearance to the new Texas map next month. That means the San Antonio federal court is once again charged with redrawing the Congressional map.

The San Antonio court is considering splitting the primary date, but party officials would like to avoid that. The court will hold a status conference Friday to update trial participants on the timeline.

Stalemate Will Likely Force Court-Drawn Map in Kentucky

The Bluegrass State’s redistricting process hit a discordant note this week. The Democrat-held state House and the Republican-held state Senate are stuck at an impasse over how to redraw Congressional maps.

With Kentucky facing a Jan. 31 filing deadline, a growing consensus in Frankfort is that the filing period will have to be moved later in the year as result of the Legislature’s inability to compromise on a bill. If the deadlock remains in place over the next weeks, the potential for judicial involvement grows.

But some legislators are loath to allow a court to draw districts for the next 10 years.

“There is an effort to avoid a court ruling,” said one Republican strategist familiar with redistricting deliberations. “I think there’s a will to resolve the matter” to avoid having it end up in the courts, the source said.

Politically involved Kentuckians of both parties said the two main points of contention are the placement of the city of Ashland, which sits near the border of the current 4th and 5th districts, and the lines of the 6th district.

Rep. Ben Chandler, a four-term Democrat from the 6th district, is the most politically vulnerable Member of the delegation. Chandler squeaked out a victory with only 647 votes in 2010, and this cycle he faces a rematch with Lexington attorney Andy Barr. State Democrats hope to keep his district winnable.

With redistricting, there’s always the potential for a quick resolution, but it appeared unlikely as of Wednesday afternoon.

“They could pass something out tonight,” said one Kentucky Democratic official, “but I doubt it.”

McDonnell Signs Member Protection Map in Virginia

Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) has signed a Congressional redistricting plan that protects Virginia’s 11 incumbents, a spokesman confirmed.

The state House of Delegates and state Senate both passed the Republican-sponsored bill that gives the GOP a strong opportunity to secure its eight districts, with Democrats continuing to hold three.

The map still must receive preclearance from the Justice Department or a federal court to comply with the Voting Rights Act, and a lawsuit challenging the redistricting process still could throw a wrench in the gears.

The new map makes it more difficult for Democrats to increase their representation in the delegation, but Democratic strategists believe they can compete in at least two GOP-held districts. Rep. Scott Rigell’s (R) 2nd district is likely the most competitive.

While the plan protects Democratic incumbents, state legislative Democrats criticized the plan for packing African-Americans into Rep. Bobby Scott’s (D) 3rd district instead of creating a second minority-influenced district, which state Senate Democrats included in the plan that chamber passed last year. African-Americans account for one-fifth of the state’s population.

Send news items on redistricting to Between the Lines here.

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