Texas AG blasts court's redistricting maps

CHRIS TOMLINSON

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas' attorney general sharply criticized a federal court Friday over its proposed maps for state House and Senate districts in the 2012 election, saying the judges overstepped their bounds.

The San Antonio-based federal court released the proposed redistricting maps late Thursday and gave those involved in the case until noon Friday to comment. Minority groups have filed a legal challenge to the Republican-drawn maps, saying they are discriminatory. The court's maps are intended to be an interim solution until the case is resolved after the 2012 elections.

Maps for the House and Senate released Thursday restore many of the minority districts — where Democrats hold the seats — to their previous shapes. Republican lawmakers have denied their maps were intended to minimize minority representation, and say they merely reflect the GOP majority in Texas.

In his filing, Attorney General Gregg Abbot said the court went too far in redrawing the Legislature's maps.

"A court's job is to apply the law, not to make policy," Abbott wrote in his objection to the proposed House map. "A federal court lacks the constitutional authority to interfere with the expressed will of the state Legislature unless it is compelled to remedy a specific identifiable violation of law."

Abbott argued that there is no violation of law. Included in his court filing were letters and emails from 18 Republican lawmakers and two Democrats objecting to portions of the court-drawn House map.

The objections by the Republican attorney general and lawmakers followed praise by many Democrats on Thursday night. But two Democrats, Representatives Senfronia Thompson and Harold Dutton, objected to the court's version of their House Districts 141 and 142 in Harris County

"The traditional communities of interest, which have existed since 1972, are destroyed under the court's plan," Dutton said. Thompson said her district was fundamentally changed by removing a key neighborhood from it.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, also denounced the court's state Senate maps. As the leader of the Senate, he supervised the creation of the district map for that chamber.

"The Senate's map was not hastily crafted, but was the product of careful balancing and intense negotiation by the senators," Dewhurst said in a letter Friday. "The court's proposed interim map completely disregards the careful work of the members of the Senate."

Since 1965, Texas has been subject to the Voting Rights Act, which requires states with a history of racial discrimination to first gain approval from the Department of Justice or a federal court before instituting new political districts. A federal court in Washington rejected Abbott's request to give approval to the legislative and congressional maps drawn by the Legislature, and the Department of Justice has called the method for drafting the maps seriously flawed.

The courts have played a role in drafting every legislative or congressional redistricting map in Texas since 1970.