New Texas Voting Map Faces Federal Challenge

September 20, 2011
By Gary Scharrer, My San Antonio

AUSTIN — This year more than ever, the once-a-decade fight over new legislative and congressional districts emphasizes the growing clash between the “old” Texas and the “new” Texas, with the state’s older, whiter establishment trying to stave off a push by newer forces — buoyed by dramatic minority population growth — eager for a bigger slice of the political pie.

For the GOP, it could be the last best chance for an Anglo-dominated party to preserve its political power. For minority groups, it is a chance to elect more Latino candidates.

As the redistricting showdown heads to court in San Antonio Tuesday, all of the lawyers representing minority groups are Hispanic. Most of the lawyers representing the state are Anglo.

One difference from previous redistricting fights: Two of the three federal judges who will hear this year’s lawsuit are Hispanic: U.S. District Judge Xavier Rodriguez and U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia. None of the federal judges in previous statewide redistricting cases in Texas have been Hispanic.

It is a reflection of the changing face of Texas. The once majority-Anglo state has become one in which minorities collectively now are the majority. Soon, Hispanics will surpass Anglos as the largest population group.

Beaten badly in the legislative arena, where minorities make up only 20 percent of the 181-member Texas House, minority groups “have a new set of referees” in a courtroom, said Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, chairman of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, which has raised about $2 million to help challenge the redistricting map. “Now, we argue as equals.”

But having Hispanic jurists overseeing a Texas redistricting case for the first time doesn’t tip the scale any particular way, because “the law is what the law is and the facts are what the facts are,” said veteran voting rights attorney José Garza of San Antonio, who represents MALC.
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