The Texas redistricting lawsuit gets underway this week in federal court.
"This could become a landmark case if the three federal judges approve the proposed map. ... It will be the largest disenfranchisement of minority voters since Dr. (Martin Luther) King secured passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965," said J. Gerald Hebert, a lawyer representing Texas' Democratic congressional delegation.
But Andy Taylor, the state's outside counsel, argues that any impact on minority voters is incidental to the Legislature's goal of creating a Republican map.
"(The plan) is not an unconstitutional racial gerrymander," Taylor said in a brief to the court. "The evidence will show that the predominant goal of the Texas Legislature was to craft, within the confines of the Voting Rights Act, a plan that increases the number of districts likely to elect a Republican."
The state's expert witness in the redistricting case -- University of Oklahoma political scientist Keith Gaddie -- said the districts are designed to give Republicans 68 percent of the state's congressional seats even if they only receive 52 percent of the vote statewide.
Attorneys for the groups attacking the redistricting plan are focusing on four main areas:
· A claim that the U.S. Constitution only allows a state to redistrict congressional seats once a decade, which occurred in Texas when the court acted in 2001. The Colorado Supreme Court upheld that principle based on Colorado law last week.
· Contentions that the Texas redistricting plan is a partisan gerrymandering that violates the U.S. Constitution. The U.S. Supreme Court is hearing a Pennsylvania case on Wednesday that could set the standard on how far partisan gerrymanders can go in eliminating competitive elections.
· Claims that the Republican map violates minority voting rights in districts where minority voters are a majority of the population, particularly in Dallas and South Texas. The proposed map splits minority communities between districts so they cannot impact the outcome of an election.
· And an argument that in other areas of the state, such as Beaumont, minority voters were split between districts so they could not influence election results. These are districts in which minorities make up less than half of the district population but their vote has provided the winning margin in past elections.
Robert Notzon, a lawyer for the NAACP, said this involves seven districts in which African-Americans and Hispanics vote in sufficient numbers to swing the election.
"Every one of the African-American influence districts is gone (in the Republican map)," Notzon said.