A former Texas Supreme Court justice whose appointment by Gov. Rick Perry led to accusations of racial pandering was part of a Federal District Court decision Thursday to issue a new voting district map for Texas that will likely overturn the map proposed by the Texas Legislature and is designed to create ethnic voting districts for Latinos.
U.S. District Court Judge Xavier Rodriguez joined with another Latino justice from the three-justice federal panel — Clinton-appointee Judge Orlando Garcia — to issue the racially-drawn map, which has not yet been given final approval. Lawyers for the Democrats and Republicans were given the opportunity to comment on the map Friday, and the parties now await the court’s final decision.
The Houston Chronicle reports that the new state House and Senate district lines could cost Republicans six seats in the Texas Legislature in 2012, and Fox News reports that the GOP does not believe it will hold its 101-49 supermajority in the Texas House if the map was formally adopted.
Rodriguez, once a casual Democrat, was plucked from obscurity by Gov. Perry to ascend to the Texas Supreme Court in 2001. Conservatives worked to successfully defeat him in a 2002 primary that the Weekly Standard reported was “all about race.” To compensate for his defeat, Rodriguez was appointed to the Federal District Court for the Western District of Texas by then-Perry ally President George W. Bush. (RELATED: Conservative ire with Perry runs deep, reflects racial politics)
The third member of the three judge panel — Judge Jerry E. Smith of New Orleans — posted a map proposal different from that put forth by Garcia and Rodriguez. His proposal was much closer to that of the legislature’s.
The three judges prepared the maps because a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C. — which is ruling on whether the Texas Legislature’s original redistricting violated the U.S. Voting Rights Act — is not likely to reach a decision in time for the 2012 elections.
The release of the Rodriguez-Garcia map was met with swift condemnation from Lone Star Republicans.
“Contrary to (a) basic principle of federalism,” Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office said in a statement, “the proposed interim redistricting plan consistently overturns the legislature’s will where no probability of a legal wrong has been identified.”
Meanwhile, Democrats cheered the decision. “These maps are a step forward for Texas voters and underscore the importance of the Voting Rights Act,” Anthony Gutierrez, a spokesman for the Texas Democratic Party, said in a statement.
The U.S. Voting Rights Act of 1965 established federal oversight over elections in several southern states, including Texas, to prevent the disenfranchisement of blacks. The act necessitates that any changes those states make that affect voting must be federally approved. Latinos were added as a protected class in 1975, and former President George W. Bush renewed the act for another 25 years in 2006.
In the 1996 Supreme Court case Bush v. Vera, the court struck down the Texas legislature’s attempt to create racial districts, calling it racial gerrymandering.