Judge nixes Texas remapping plan after latest deal

Several minority groups unsatisfied

SAN ANTONIO — A federal judge swiftly rejected a proposed temporary fix to Texas’ months-long fight over redistricting on Monday, ordering all sides to keep talking just hours after a compromise was announced by the attorney general and immediately condemned by several minority advocacy groups.

The court order likely guarantees that the fight will delay Texas’ primary elections for a second time. Republicans feared that another delay could prevent Texas voters from helping decide which GOP candidate challenges President Obama in November.

The advocacy groups are suing the state, alleging that the Republican-controlled Legislature ignored the state’s burgeoning Hispanic population when it redrew boundaries for congressional and state legislative districts.

Monday was the deadline for both sides to agree to temporary maps for the 2012 elections in order to hold the primaries on April 3. In his rejection order, U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia said the plan needed more support from involved parties, and he didn’t award extra time.

“All deadlines remain in place until the Court is notified that an agreement has been reached,” the judge wrote.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott had optimistically introduced the plan earlier Monday. It had the backing of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, one of the largest groups that sued the state.

Under the proposal, Hispanics would control two of four new congressional seats that Texas was awarded following the 2010 Census, which reflected the state’s population boom in the past decade. But apart from MALDEF and Democratic U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas, most others involved in the lawsuit said the proposal fell far short of a fair compromise.

Luis Vera, an attorney for the League of United Latin American Citizens, scoffed at the new deal and accused the state of overselling the number of many plaintiffs that signed off on it. Late Monday, his group and six of the other nine plaintiffs filed court briefs formally opposing the plan.

Mr. Vera said talks had halted, adding: “There’s no agreement, and there’s nothing to talk about.”

In a written statement late Monday, Mr. Abbott didn’t acknowledge the judge’s order but said his office “has worked with a wide range of interest groups to incorporate reasonable requests from all parties” without compromising the will of the Texas Legislature. He has said a primary likely couldn’t be organized before April 17.

When asked earlier Monday if he was happy with the proposed compromise, Mr. Abbott said “it’s a step in the right direction.” He said failure to reach a consensus wasn’t for a lack of trying.

MALDEF attorney Nina Perales said the maps put forward by Mr. Abbott came very close to what her organization requested. She said that in addition to creating two new Hispanic-dominated congressional districts, the plan created two Hispanic-majority districts in the Texas House and restored two Hispanic districts in the Rio Grande Valley and Nueces County.

“Although they are not perfect, the plans that have been released by the state today … more fairly reflect the growing strength of Latino voters in Texas,” she said. “They properly recognize that protecting voting rights is more important than partisanship or incumbency protection.”

AP writer Chris Tomlinson contributed to this report.

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