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Judges Lift Block Against Texas Redistricting Maps

GALVESTON, Texas (CN) - While the U.S. Supreme Court enters into the ongoing battle over Texas redistricting, a panel of federal judges has refused to let citizens in Galveston block the use of the challenged maps in upcoming elections.

The dispute involves a lawsuit from seven elected officials and one citizen to enjoin new maps for the elections of the Galveston County commissioner, justice of the peace and constable districts.

Though U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt blocked Galveston's disputed redistricting plans, a panel of judges vacated the temporary restraining order on Dec. 9. The panel amended this decision on Monday.

Hoyt sat on the panel in the Southern District of Texas and dissented from the majority decision.

As established by the Voting Rights Act, Galveston County, like the state, must receive preclearance for its new redistricting plans from either the U.S. Department of Justice or the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Challengers have paid specific attention to the county commissioner map to decide whether it adheres to the "one-person, one-vote" principle.

The county has yet to hear from the Department of Justice, which received its plans for the county commissioner election on Oct. 14 and has 60 days to oppose the maps. Galveston also filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

In an amended order issued Monday, the Southern District of Texas said that Galveston had properly submitted its plans for preclearance and that the court should refrain from intervening until Dec. 19.

With the Dec. 15 deadline looming for those looking to join in the race for office, this decision clears the way for candidates to file under the county's plans.

Would-be candidates should note that, "if the U.S. Department of Justice or U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia disallow preclearance by the end of the day on December 19, 2011, their filing fees will be refunded, and this three-judge court will determine what temporary remedy to adopt at that time," according to the majority decision authored by 5th Circuit Judge Emilio Garza and U.S. District Judge Melinda Harmon.

Judge Hoyt's dissenting opinion calls on the court to adopt the voters' version of the county commissioner map, noting that he would "not permit Galveston County to proceed with elections on either its non-precleared plan or its last legal plan, as both violate section 5 of the act."

But Hoyt's colleagues disagreed. "Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act does not grant this court authority to determine whether a voting change was adopted with a discriminatory purpose and whether it would have a discriminatory effect on minority voting strength," Garza and Harmon wrote. "The act reserves that substantive determination exclusively for the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Our role is strictly limited."

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