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Trial begins in Texas redistricting case

AUSTIN, Texas -- A new Republican-drawn congressional map tramples on the rights of Hispanics and blacks in Texas and should be declared illegal, opponents of the plan argued as a federal trial opened yesterday.

Attorneys for the state disputed the allegations from Democrats and minority groups and said the new redistricting plan actually increases minority clout.

Further, the GOP map likely would increase the number of Texas Republicans in Congress, and redress an imbalance, said Andy Taylor, a private attorney representing the state.

Even though most Texans vote Republican -- the GOP holds all statewide elected offices and controls the state House and Senate -- only 47 percent of the seats in the state's 32-member congressional delegation are held by Republicans, Taylor said.

Opponents of the redistricting plan -- passed during an October special session after lengthy partisan bickering and two boycotts of the Legislature by Democrats -- argued in court that the GOP map violates the federal Voting Rights Act and the US Constitution.

A three-judge federal panel is hearing the case in Austin. Testimony from scholars, congressional incumbents, and state legislators is expected to take about a week. Whatever the ruling, an appeal is expected to the US Supreme Court.

Democrats want to keep the districts that have given them a 17-15 advantage in the congressional delegation.

"There's no reason for us to do the dance again," attorney Anthony Griffin said. "What was the emergency that we were calling special sessions?"

Griffin represents Eddie Bernice Johnson of Dallas and Sheila Jackson-Lee of Houston, Democratic members of Congress, and is fighting to protect their historically black districts.

Also challenging the redistricting plan are assorted groups of Democrats, some chapters of the League of United Latin American Citizens, and the Texas NAACP.

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