Democrats want Justice memo on Texas redistricting

Papers sought for lawsuit challenging the GOP plan

December 23, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

AUSTIN, Texas - Members of Texas' Democratic congressional delegation demanded yesterday that the U.S. Justice Department release documents that they say will prove that political appointees overruled professional staff in clearing a Republican congressional redistricting plan.

The Democrats want a copy of the memorandum written by the Voting Section of the department's Civil Rights Division in time to present it today in federal court in Austin. A three-judge panel is hearing final arguments in a lawsuit challenging the new congressional plan, which Republicans want to use in the 2004 elections.

"It is vital that the public and the three-judge panel have access to the Voting Section's recommendation before the start of closing arguments," said a statement issued by the delegation.

Justice Department spokesman Jorge Martinez declined to comment yesterday.

Democrats and minority groups say the congressional redistricting plan passed in October by the Legislature dilutes minority voting strength illegally. But the state says the map was drawn for political purposes and that splits in blocs of minority voters were made because they vote Democratic.

J. Gerald Hebert, a lawyer representing congressional Democrats, said sources within the department told him the agency's career professional staff found that the Texas map violated minority protections in the Voting Rights Act.

Hebert said he was told the staff was overruled by Republican political appointees. He has demanded a copy of the staff recommendation under the Freedom of Information Act.

"We urge the Justice Department to immediately release the Voting Section's memorandum so that the public and the judges will know what illegalities led career Justice Department employees to recommend against pre-clearing the Texas plan," the Democrats said.

If the federal court finds violations, it could restore the old plan or make modifications.

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