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Texas Redistricting Ruling Could Have Wide Implications

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Trey Martinez Fisher of the Mexican American legislative caucus speaks to reporters after lawyers argued the Texas voting discrimination case before the U.S. Supreme Court.
 
Matt Laslo
  Trey Martinez Fisher of the Mexican American legislative caucus speaks to reporters after lawyers argued the Texas voting discrimination case before the U.S. Supreme Court.  

The U.S. Supreme Court is weighing a redistricting case in Texas that could have implications for minorities in Virginia.

Virginia is one of just 16 states required to get federal government approval for changes in its voting procedures. So is Texas. That's because in the past, they've been found guilty of voter discrimination under the Voting Rights Act.

The Supreme Court is weighing whether to temporarily waive that requirement -- called Section 5 -- for Texas. The Lone Star state is embroiled in a dispute over redistricting, with Latino voters arguing that the new map is skewed to minimize their influence, despite their rapidly growing population in the state. Without the Supreme Court waiver, Texas might not have new districts in place in time for its upcoming primary.

Bob Kengle is with the Voting Rights Project, which is set up to protect minority voters. He says a Supreme Court ruling to waive the requirement could allow states such as Virginia to wait until the last minute in order to skirt the Voting Rights Act. 

"You do not want to create an opportunity for discriminatory plans to be put into effect, either on an interim basis or a permanent basis," Kengle says.

While legal scholars say the Court could set a new precedent by allowing states to temporarily forego getting government approval under Section 5, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott says the real dispute isn't over Section 5, but over who has ultimate authority in state redistricting: the courts or the state legislature.

"We believe that what the state of Texas did fully complies with the Voting Rights Act and ensures a new record number of Hispanics who are elected to office as Republicans," Abbott says.

The Virginia legislature has yet to approve a Congressional redistricting plan, but it's one of the top agenda items for legislators when they convene on Wednesday.

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