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Texas asks Supreme Court to block federal judges’ redistricting plan

Court challenges to the nation’s once-a-decade political redistricting plans reached the Supreme Court on Monday, with Texas asking the justices to block implementation of a legislative map drawn by a panel of federal judges.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott (R) called the maps drawn by the San Antonio panel “judicial activism at its worst.” The maps, which created new districts for the Texas legislature and the state’s congressional districts, could increase minority representation and benefit Democrats.

The Supreme Court did not immediately rule on Abbott’s motion — filed on behalf of Gov. Rick Perry (R) — to stay the use of the maps in favor of the redistricting plan passed by the Republican-dominated Texas legislature. Justice Antonin Scalia called for those who had sued over the maps to respond by Thursday afternoon to Texas’s filing.

Every state is redrawing political lines as a result of the 2010 Census. Texas’s efforts are complicated for two reasons: a dramatic increase in its minority population, and its inclusion under the Voting Rights Act among states that need federal “pre-clearance” for any electoral changes that could affect minority political power.

Texas’s population grew 21 percent over the past decade, to more than 25 million, and as a result the state was allocated four more congressional seats. In that time, the state’s Hispanic population grew by 2.8 million, compared with population growth of 522,570 for African Americans and less than 465,000 for whites.

The San Antonio panel of federal judges imposed its own map because the map drawn by the Texas legislature is awaiting a hearing next month before a federal court in Washington. Minority groups have challenged that plan.

In the meantime, the San Antonio panel drew new maps that are to remain in place until the issue is settled.

The judges split 2 to 1, and dissenting Judge Jerry Smith of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit said his fellow jurists had gone too far.

“The judges in the majority, with the purest of intentions, have instead produced a runaway plan that imposes an extreme redistricting scheme” for Texas, Smith wrote in dissent.

District judges Orlando L. Garcia and Xavier Rodriguez said they had little choice because of pending Texas elections — candidates must file by Dec. 15 to compete in the March primaries.

The judges said that they relied on “the neutral districting principles required of court-drawn plans” and that their maps “advance the interest of the collective public good, as opposed to the interests of any political party or particular group of people.”

Abbott recruited Paul D. Clement, who was solicitor general in the George W. Bush administration, to help with the request for a Supreme Court stay. The petitions challenge plans for the Texas House and Senate; Abbott said a separate stay request for the court-ordered congressional map would be filed as well.

The Texas officials said the San Antonio judges had no reason to implement a completely new plan before the court in Washington had even found that the legislative plan was flawed.

“Even if such a finding is made, the court must go further and construct an interim remedy that narrowly addresses likely legal errors while respecting the lines actually drawn by the legislature wherever possible,” they wrote.

The cases are Perry v. Perez and Perry v. Davis.

Robert Barnes has been a Washington Post reporter and editor since 1987. He has covered the Supreme Court since November 2006.

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