- Associated Press - Thursday, April 27, 2017

SAN ANTONIO (AP) - Minority rights groups on Thursday told federal judges that Texas needs new election maps for 2018, which would likely boost Democratic candidates, following three recent court findings that Republicans intentionally discriminated against Hispanic and black voters.

Redrawn districts in Texas could bolster Democratic efforts to reclaim Congress in the first midterm election under President Donald Trump. It could also swing seats in the Texas Legislature, where Republicans showed their dominance overnight Thursday, passing a ban on so-called “sanctuary cities” that empowers local police to enforce federal immigration law against anyone detained.

A three-judge panel in San Antonio did not immediately decide a next step. Since March, the same court has found intentional discrimination in both congressional and Statehouse maps originally drawn by Republicans in 2011, a year after U.S. Census Bureau figures showed that minorities were driving Texas’ explosive growth.

Texas’ strict voter ID law was found to be intentionally discriminatory earlier this month for a second time by a separate federal court in Corpus Christi.

“We’re going to do everything we can to ensure voters in Texas get a remedy for the 2018 election,” said Jose Garza, an attorney for the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, which is among a coalition of minority groups challenging Texas’ voting laws.

Garza believes that, at a minimum, two or three congressional districts and between two and five Statehouse districts in Texas could be redrawn before 2018 to better favor minority voters. While judges said they expected to issue rulings on some issues Monday, Garza believes they are headed to a likely summer trial.

But any timeline to redraw voting districts in Texas would be tight. Candidate filing for the 2018 primaries begins in November. And while the court could postpone key dates, doing so five years ago caused upheaval in Texas’ election. Garza reminded the judges Thursday that were it not for the court pushing back Texas’ primaries in 2012 while waiting on redrawn maps, a tea party upstart named Ted Cruz may not have rallied to win the U.S. Senate nomination.

The San Antonio court found that Republicans used gerrymandering - the practice of drawing boundaries to favor one political party over another - in a racially biased way for congressional districts and intentionally diluted minority voters while drawing new districts for the Texas House of Representatives, which the GOP currently controls 95-55. Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has described the rulings as moot since the maps were never actually used in an election and has signaled that the state will appeal.

The groups suing Texas also want the state to become the first to be put back under federal oversight since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down key parts of the Voting Rights Act four years ago. That 2013 ruling struck down a provision in the 1965 law that required Texas and other states with troubled histories of racial discrimination to “pre-clear” any voting law changes with the federal government before enacting them.

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Follow Paul J. Weber on Twitter: www.twitter.com/pauljweber

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