Federal Challenge to Redistricting Hits Texas Taxpayers

Thursday, 05 Apr 2012 11:23 AM

By Greg McDonald

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Texas taxpayers have been saddled with a $750,000 legal bill so far in the state’s defense of a new legislative and congressional redistricting plan being challenged in court by the Justice Department and the Democratic Party.

According to records released to the Houston Chronicle under the Texas Public Information Act, the costs of state contracts for outside legal counsel through August are expected to grow even more as the court battle over whether the plan discriminates against minorities grinds on.

“The Attorney General’s Office is fulfilling its obligation to defend state redistricting laws enacted by the Texas Legislature, just as this office defends all duly enacted state laws when they are challenged in court,” Lauren Bean, as spokeswoman for state Attorney General Greg Abbott, told the Chronicle Wednesday.

Gov. Rick Perry signed the Republican-drawn plan resetting the boundaries for legislative and congressional districts into law last year. The state then submitted the plan for approval to U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., as required by the U.S. Voting Rights Act.

Since then, the case has been up and down the federal court system, including a trip to the U.S. Supreme Court, where a federal judge’s attempt to re-write the plan was rejected.

Rice University political science professor Mark Jones says the state’s legal bill will likely grow by another 30 percent before the case is over, and he predicted its Democratic opponents would continue to attack the law by criticizing the cost of its defense.

“I expect the whole thing to top out over a million or so,” Jones told the Chronicle. “The political spin on it will depend on to what extent is that viewed as excessive.”

Democrats have accused Abbott, a potentially strong Republican candidate for governor, of wasting taxpayer money to defend the law.

“The maps that the state is trying to implement absolutely ignore the demographic realities of Texas,” said Rebecca Acuña, a spokeswoman for the Texas Democratic Party.

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