SAN ANTONIO — The state’s 2014 primaries will be held using the congressional and legislative maps approved by lawmakers this summer, a federal panel of judges ruled Friday.
The San Antonio-based judges said they didn't have time to finally settle the legal disputes over the state’s redistricting maps before those elections, which are scheduled for March, but told the state to proceed with those maps until the lawsuits have played out.
The Legislature’s plans for Senate districts have already been enacted without anyone crying foul; the parties to the redistricting lawsuits agreed to those earlier, and the court ended that part of the litigation. But House and congressional plans are still being disputed.
“These plans are being used on an interim basis only, and nothing in this order should be construed as a ruling on the merits of any claims, causes of actions, or requests for relief that have been asserted in this consolidated action,” the judges said in their order.
In a statement praising the ruling, Lauren Bean, a spokeswoman for the Texas attorney general’s office, said that Texans will benefit from the certainty provided by the judges' decision.
"Texas has prevailed each time the redistricting litigation has reached the Supreme Court and remains confident that the Legislature’s maps will be vindicated, either at the San Antonio federal district court or at the U.S. Supreme Court, if necessary,” Bean said.
The court rejected the state's request to dismiss earlier challenges to the political maps, saying issues raised about maps drawn in 2011 and 2013 by the Legislature will remain under consideration. That was a loss for the state, which had hoped to end the litigation with legislative passage of maps drawn by these same judges for use in the 2012 elections.
Called to a special session this summer to address redistricting after the 83rd Legislature's regular session had concluded, state lawmakers made small changes to those 2012 House maps while leaving the Senate and congressional maps unchanged.
Maps drawn during the 2011 Legislature, which had a Republican supermajority in the House, drew lawsuits from minority and Democratic plaintiffs who said the districts didn't represent the state's population. Their cases were sent to a panel of three federal judges in San Antonio. Also at that time, the state asked a different panel of federal judges in Washington, D.C., to pre-clear the maps — a requirement under the federal Voting Rights Act.
The San Antonio judges drew maps for use in the 2012 elections. Their first submissions drew objections from Republicans, and the U.S. Supreme Court ordered them to redraw the maps that were used in the elections.
The Supreme Court later ruled that the formula for which states are subject to preclearance is unconstitutional. Now the burden of proof moves to anyone suing the state over new laws and maps.
But the legal battles haven't ended. The U.S. Department of Justice has filed briefs with the San Antonio judges saying that Texas should still be subjected to federal preclearance. That, and the state’s arguments against that action, are still pending in court, as are the challenges to the maps approved by lawmakers earlier this summer.
Ahead of Friday's ruling, election officials have kept a close eye on calendar, wondering whether the 2014 primaries would be delayed as they were in 2012.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2013/09/06/2014-primaries-can-proceed-judges... .