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Redistricting Issue Heats Up In Texas


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm David Greene.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

We're going to hear now about drawing and redrawing the political map in two big states, beginning with Texas, where the legislature has had some legendary battles over the years, few more contentious than those involving revising legislative and congressional districts. One of the more dramatic saw Democratic lawmakers fleeing the state in an effort to block the process.

But as Ben Philpott, from member station KUT in Austin reports, this time around the action is in the courts as much as the state capitol.

BEN PHILPOTT, BYLINE: It all goes back to 2011, when Texas lawmakers passed their most recent legislative and congressional maps. Texas is one of a handful of states that must get approval from the federal government for any changes to its elections laws. So a federal court in Washington, D.C. reviewed the maps and said they didn't pass muster, because they diluted the effect of black and Hispanic votes. Hispanics had been arguing that the maps did not account for their growing numbers.

Ross Ramsey covers redistricting for the politics and policy website The Texas Tribune.

ROSS RAMSEY: In Texas, 89 percent of the growth in the last decade was minority growth. And something like 65 percent of that was Hispanic growth. And several of the groups that sued the Texas plan said that the new maps don't adequately reflect those population changes. And a bunch of parties went to another federal court here in Texas, ended up in San Antonio, and said these maps are illegal, throw them out.

PHILPOTT: The court replaced those maps with interim maps to be used just for the 2012 elections. But now, instead of making more changes along the lines the court wanted, the Republican-led legislature wants to make the 2012 maps permanent.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN, BYLINE: The members of the Senate will come to order in the secretary will call the roll...

PHILPOTT: Back at the state capitol, the special session is in high gear. Lawmakers filed bills in the opening minutes of the session starting Monday night. They'll hold public hearings Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and be ready to vote the maps out next week.

The top map drawer in the State House is Republican Drew Darby, and he says his goal is simple.

STATE REPRESENTATIVE DREW DARBY: Make sure that we have maps that comply with the Constitution, that are not racially discriminatory, that hopefully end protracted litigation, and to bring certainty to the election process.

PHILPOTT: Certainty would be nice. In 2012, action in the courts delayed the state's primary for months and left candidates confused as to which district they needed to run in. But the ultimate goal is to pass inspection at the federal level, says The Texas Tribune's Ross Ramsey.

RAMSEY: To greatly oversimplify this, one side says if the court drew the maps and you ratify the court's maps, those are almost by definition legal maps.

PHILPOTT: But Democrats and minority advocates say the court never meant the 2012 maps to be permanent. Here's San Antonio State Representative Trey Martinez Fischer.

STATE REPRESENTATIVE TREY MARTINEZ FISCHER: The courts said these maps are temporary in nature and do not address the claims brought forth by the litigants. So the court never imagined that these maps would be adopted permanently.

PHILPOTT: Three federal judges in San Antonio will hold a hearing on the 2012 maps this week. And Democrats hope a new process can begin to replace the 2012 maps in time for elections in 2014. The battle for the map of Texas will likely have a ripple effect across the country, as other states also struggle to account for rapid changes in their populations.

For NPR News, I'm Ben Philpott in Austin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ben Philpott covers politics and policy for KUT 90.5 FM. He has been covering state politics and dozens of other topics for the station since 2002. He's been recognized for outstanding radio journalism by the Radio and Television News Directors Association, Public Radio News Directors Incorporated, the Texas Associated Press Broadcasters and twice by the Houston Press Club as Radio Journalist of the Year. Before moving to Texas, he worked in public radio in Birmingham and Tuscaloosa, Ala., and at several television stations in Alabama and Tennessee. Born in New York City and raised in Chattanooga, Tenn., Philpott graduated from the University of Alabama with a degree in broadcast journalism.