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New Fight Over 2021 Texas Redistricting Underway In Federal Courthouse in San Antonio

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A three-judge federal panel in San Antonio is considering whether statehouse and congressional districts scheduled to be drawn state lawmakers in 2021 should be under federal pre-clearance before they are used in elections.

Nina Perales, an attorney with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, made oral arguments in the long-running redistricting case of Abbott v. Perez, alleging intentional discrimination in redistricting.

"The remedy we are seeking in this case is that through the next redistricting round, which is basically the next ten years, that any redistricting law that Texas enacts had to be looked at by a federal eye," she explained.

Statehouse drawn districts in Texas were under federal preclearance by the Department of Justice from 1975 to 2013, but MALDEF argued voter ID laws and the recent voter purge case showed Texas continued to discriminate so federal oversight should return.

"We've urged the court to take this position," Perales said, "that if the court believes there is likely to be discrimination in the next round of redistricting, there ought to be a federal eye in there helping to supervise."

Thursday's court faceoff with the state stemmed from a larger challenge to the state's redistricting plans from 2011. In that case, judges ruled Texas lawmakers intentionally curbed the political power of minority voters in the state.

Michael Li with the Brennan Center for Justice said plaintiffs invoked part of Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act called a bail-in.

He explained it would require Texas officials to get pre-clearance. That means Texas must attain federal approval of political maps before they can be used in elections.

"The burden would be on the state of Texas to prove that the maps weren’t discriminatory and it hadn’t reduced minority voting power," he said. "And that’s a huge power shift. It sort of puts the burden on the state instead of on individual plaintiffs and individual voters."

Li said this is uncharted territory because no state has been put under federal preclearance in this particular way.

State officials argued it was not necessary because those 2011 maps were changed years ago.