Texas defends redistricting map at federal hearing
WASHINGTON — An attorney and a Texas state representative argued Tuesday that Democrats and minority groups had ample time to weigh in on redistricting maps drawn by the Republican-dominated state Legislature that are now being challenged in federal court.
A panel of three federal judges in Washington is holding a two-week hearing to determine whether Texas lawmakers violated the federal Voting Rights Act when they redrew maps of the state's legislative and congressional voting districts this year.
"There's partisanship in Texas ... but Democratic members had enormous influence" on the maps, Adam Mortara, an attorney for the state, said during opening remarks.
Districts are redrawn every 10 years to reflect population changes recorded by the Census. But under the Voting Rights Act, Texas is one of nine states where new maps must get pre-clearance from the Justice Department because of a past history of discrimination.
The department, along with some Democrats and minority groups, are challenging the new maps, saying they don't adequately distribute political power among the state's Latinos and African-Americans.
State Rep. Todd Hunter, a Republican who sits on the Legislature's redistricting committee, testified Tuesday that there was "a concerted effort make sure both parties were involved" in drawing the new districts.
"Part of my role was to go around the state and make sure people had input," Hunter said.
He said no one expressed misgivings with the plan to him in person.
"I want the court to know that nobody took one effort to visit with me personally," he said.
Justice Department attorney Dan Freeman pressed Hunter during cross examination about how big a role he actually played in drawing the map. Freeman cited an earlier deposition from Hunter, noted that the representative did not initially recognize his own district in a redrawn map.
Hunter responded that he was involved and again told the court no one came to him with complaints while the map was being crafted by the Legislature.
Testimony was continuing Tuesday and could include dozens of witnesses during the next two weeks.
The Supreme Court last week heard separate arguments about alternative maps that were drawn on interim basis by a different federal court in San Antonio, after the Justice Department did not pre-clear the Legislature's maps. Texas has argued that the San Antonio court's maps shouldn't be used in primary elections in the state now scheduled for April 3.