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The Justice Department will deliver its opening salvo today in Texas' controversial redistricting case, laying out its initial argument on whether the state's new Congressional map adheres to the Voting Rights Act.
The department's legal brief will also give a hint as to how hard the Obama administration will fight for Hispanic voters in a proxy battle against one of the president's potential opponents next year, Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R).
"It's a critical step in figuring where we end up in redistricting, especially Congressional redistricting," said Michael Li, a Democratic election attorney in Dallas. "It's the first time Democrats have controlled the Justice Department [during this process] in 40 years, since the Voting Rights Act was enacted. Everyone has been wondering how aggressive the Justice Department is going to be."
Earlier this year, Texas Republicans passed a Congressional map that added four new House seats — a result of population growth. But Democrats charge that the map does not accurately reflect the increase in Hispanic voters by creating additional majority-minority districts.
The Justice Department has been tight-lipped about the Texas map. Xochitl Hinojosa, the department's spokeswoman for the civil rights division, declined to comment for this story.
But many Democrats are optimistic that the Justice Department will use the new Texas map as the basis for a major judicial battle.
"Those of us who have been following this believe there is ample reason why the Justice Department will object to these plans," said Matt Angle, a Democratic strategist and redistricting expert from Texas.
The Department of Justice's brief, due in court today, could provide a range of answers, redistricting experts said. It could approve the map, making an upcoming federal trial almost moot, or it could ask for more information about certain areas of concern. The department's attorneys could also oppose parts of the Texas plan or all of it.
Meanwhile, a separate federal trial over the map in San Antonio wrapped up last week. That court is expected to hold off on a decision until the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia gets the DOJ brief and then decides on moving forward with a trial.
Many prominent Republicans are mum on the matter. Some of them involved with the new map declined, through aides, to be interviewed for this story, including Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions and Republican Reps. Joe Barton and Lamar Smith.