Feb. 11, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Between the Lines: Sessions Wants to Work Out Lines in Texas

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Rep. Pete Sessions says he wants Texas Republicans to work with the Department of Justice on the state's new Congressional map.

National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions struck a cooperative tone Tuesday for working with the Justice Department to ensure the state's controversial Congressional map complies with the Voting Rights Act.

"We'll very much want to work with the Department of Justice and the court to make sure we'll be in full compliance with the law," Sessions said in a brief interview.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott insisted last week that the state's new Congressional map adheres to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. But on Monday, in its response to Texas in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the Justice Department declared that the map did not.

Many Texas Republican House Members, including Sessions, kept quiet about the redistricting while the Justice Department considered its response. Now Sessions said he's considering "how we may make appropriate changes that are necessary" to ensure a legal map.

"It was the opinion of the Attorney General of the State of Texas at the time the map was drawn, that they felt like it and we felt like it would be in compliance, not only with the Voting Rights Act, but really the spirit of the Republican Party in how we attempted to redistrict Texas," Sessions said.

The Justice Department declined to divulge any specific details about its opinion, such as which parts of the map should be redrawn. But sources on both sides of the aisle speculated there are two areas of concern.

"It's fair to assume that they will certainly object to district 23 and there will probably be objections focused on north Texas," said Matt Angle, a Democratic strategist and Texas redistricting expert.

There is concern about whether Hispanic turnout in the new 23rd district would be sufficient for a majority-minority district and about whether Dallas should have a second majority-minority district.

Both parties were scheduled to discuss a timetable for a trial late Wednesday. The timing is particularly important for Texas' early election calendar.

Even if the federal trial finishes before filing commences in mid-November, there's a separate redistricting case pending in San Antonio's federal court. Those judges will not rule on their case until the District of Columbia's District Court makes a call.

As a result, it's looking increasingly likely that Texas lawmakers will be forced to move back their primary calendar again. That's not uncommon in Texas, Angle said.

In 2003, officials moved the filing deadline back a few weeks because redistricting legislation was stuck in court. In 1996, a late Texas map ruling forced officials to cancel primaries for some Congressional districts. Instead, candidates ran in nonpartisan November races with a runoff contest if no one garnered a majority of the vote.

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