Lawsuit seeks redrawing of Texas Senate districts

File - In this May 30, 2013 file photo, Texas state Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa looks at maps on display prior to a Senate Redistricting committee hearing, in Austin, Texas. Attorney General Eric Holder says Texas is the first place that he will intervene to defend against what he calls attacks on the voting rights of minorities, but it is also the only state where the federal government has a clear opportunity to get involved, experts say. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)
File - In this May 30, 2013 file photo, Texas state Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa looks at maps on display prior to a Senate Redistricting committee hearing, in Austin, Texas. Attorney General Eric Holder says Texas is the first place that he will intervene to defend against what he calls attacks on the voting rights of minorities, but it is also the only state where the federal government has a clear opportunity to get involved, experts say. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

AUSTIN (AP) — Two Texas residents backed by a conservative legal group have filed a federal lawsuit in Austin challenging how state Senate voting districts were drawn, according to a published report Tuesday.

The Project on Fair Representation wants a judge to cancel this year’s primaries, which used Senate boundaries drawn by the Legislature in 2013. Instead, the group would like to see state lawmakers ordered to draw new districts.

The plaintiffs are voters in two state Senate districts represented by Republicans Kevin Eltife, of Tyler, and Tommy Williams, of The Woodlands.

The lawsuit argues that the way districts were drawn was unconstitutional since it was based on total population. The districts should have been drawn only based on the number of eligible voters, excluding children, felons and noncitizens, the lawsuit says. It also says that districts with fewer eligible voters have more influence than those in districts with more eligible voters, which is unconstitutional.

The Project on Fair Representation’s director, Ed Blum, helped lead the Fisher v. University of Texas affirmative action case that was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court last year.

Blum says the nation’s high court hasn’t clearly spelled out which populations should be considered when most redistricting maps are drawn — even though congressional districts are an exception because they’re based on total population.

Blum said the lawsuit should be enjoined with the ongoing redistricting case already in federal court in San Antonio, in which civil rights groups have argued that redistricting maps drawn by the Legislature discriminate against minorities.

A panel of judges drew interim maps for Texas’ March primary, but the case is scheduled to go to trial in July.

Though the latest lawsuit’s current focus is the Texas Senate, Blum said he believes that any decision in the case could be applied to districts drawn for other bodies, such as those in the Texas House or around the country.

Michael Li, a Dallas attorney who closely follows redistricting legal matters in Texas, said that if the lawsuit succeeds, districts with a majority of minorities and those in urban areas could end up being geographically larger and bigger in overall population.

That means there could be fewer minority opportunity districts designed to make it easier for Texas residents to elect minority candidates, because eligible voters might be more spread out.

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