WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday will step into the fight over Texas' redistricting maps.
The court has set a side an hour for oral arguments this afternoon over which boundaries the state will use -- maps drawn last summer by the state's Legislature, interim maps substituted by a federal court in San Antonio or a variation of the two.
In the 2010 census, Texas showed a gain of more than 4 million people, mostly Latinos and African-Americans. The population growth means Texas will add four more seats in the U.S. House of Representatives next year - from 32 to 36 seats in the 435-member body.
Opponents of the map drawn by the state Legislature say the new boundaries dilute the voting power of minorities.
Several minority groups filed a lawsuit, and a judicial panel in San Antonio created another map it claims more fairly represents the new minority populations.
The state challenged the court-drawn maps and asked the country's highest court to hear their arguments.
The narrow legal question for the Supreme Court today is whether the San Antonio judges went too far when they created the substitute map.
If the Supreme Court agrees with the state, it will then have to decide which maps to use.
Texas says that even without court's approval, it should be able to use its own maps just for this year because time is running short before primary elections, already delayed from March to April 3.
Also at stake is a challenge to the Voting Rights Act. Because of a history of racial discrimination in voting, Texas is among 16 states required to get federal approval of election changes under the Act.
But after a federal court in Washington, D.C., would not approve the Legislature's maps, federal judges in San Antonio drew the temporary maps that were widely seen as favoring Democrats.
Today Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott will try to convince Supreme Court justices that the state should get to use the maps approved by the Legislature because no federal court has rejected them.
Eight other states signed a brief backing Texas, saying a map approved by a state's elected officials should be given more deference if federal authorities haven't ruled on its legality.