SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Texas' attorney general agreed Monday to temporary voting maps that add new Hispanic-dominated districts and could save the April 3 date for primary elections statewide. But at least one influential minority group said it would fight the new plan.
Still, the proposal marks a rare moment of agreement in a bitter legal clash that has dragged on since last summer, even reaching the U.S. Supreme Court. Minority groups filed a lawsuit alleging the GOP-controlled Legislature drafted redistricting maps that were discriminatory and ignored a burgeoning Hispanic population.
A San Antonio federal court had given the state and minority groups until Monday to reach a compromise, or see the Texas primaries pushed back for a second time.
Under the new plan, Hispanics would control half of Texas' four new congressional seats that were awarded following new population numbers from the census. Attorney General Greg Abbott said seven minority groups agreed to the new plan, which he said minimizes changes to the original redistricting maps drafted by the Legislature.
"Today's maps should allow the court to finalize the interim redistricting maps in time to have elections in April," Abbott said in a statement.
But a lawyer for League of United Latin American Citizens, which was among the groups that sued, bristled at news of a compromise. Luis Vera predicted the deal wouldn't stand, saying: "It means absolutely nothing."
It wasn't immediately clear when the three-judge panel in San Antonio would accept or reject the proposal.
Rolando Rios, an attorney for Democratic U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, who also was part of the lawsuit, told The Associated Press earlier Monday that the attorney general's office agreed not to oppose a proposed voting map that would give the state two new Hispanic congressional seats.
"This would be historic if we could get it," Rios said, adding that he was optimistic the other plaintiffs would support the proposal by the end of Monday.
The fight over new voting maps in Texas is being driven by new census numbers that show a burgeoning Hispanic population in Texas. The stakes are unusually high because the nation's second-largest state is adding four congressional seats — and the way they are divvyed up could be pivotal in determining which party controls the U.S. House.
The Texas Legislature got the first crack at drawing new maps for Congress and the Statehouse, but their plan was quickly challenged by Cuellar, LULAC and seven other plaintiffs.
Another rescheduled primary would further stoke fears among Republicans that Texas wouldn't get to vote for a GOP challenger to President Barack Obama until after the race had been decided.
If the court rejects the compromise, the judges could split the primaries into two elections — one for the presidential race, and a later one for state and congressional elections that are at the mercy of where map lines are settled.
A split primary would let parties hold their conventions on schedule — but could cost taxpayers $15 million.
At issue is how maps drawn up by the Republican-led Legislature last year treat minorities. Republican leaders say they drew the maps merely to benefit their party's candidates, but minority groups claim they discriminate by diluting minority voting power. All states must redraw political districts following the census every 10 years to adjust for population changes.
A federal court in Washington is also weighing the legality of the Legislature-drawn maps. Texas is one of nine states with a history of racial discrimination that must ask the Washington court or the U.S. Department of Justice to pre-approve any changes to state election laws.
The Washington court has said not to expect its ruling for at least another month.