AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas Senate adopted temporary political maps drawn by a three-judge federal court panel in San Antonio as permanent on Friday following a fierce partisan debate intended to set the stage for continued lawsuits over the voting power of minorities.
The Senate adopted its own district map unanimously after both sides in the lawsuit settled that case. But Democrats adamantly opposed adopting the maps used in 2012 because they said the maps dilute the votes of Hispanics and African-Americans.
The vote was the latest drama in a battle that began when the Legislature adopted new maps in 2011 to account for new census data. Democrats and minority groups opposed those maps, sparking two complimentary federal court cases. Three judges in San Antonio, who said the preliminary evidence showed substantial problems with the maps, drew interim maps for use in the 2012 election.
Since then, another federal panel in Washington found overwhelming evidence that the Republican-controlled Legislature intentionally drew maps to marginalize minorities and threw them out. Gov. Rick Perry called the Legislature into special session to make the interim voting plans permanent before the San Antonio court has a chance to draw completely new maps based on the Washington court decision.
Sen. Kel Seliger, the Republican chairman of the Senate Redistricting Committee, called the court-drawn maps "fair and legal" and rejected Democratic proposals to change them. Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, citing the San Antonio court's order creating the maps, said they were only intended as a stop-gap measure and that further analysis would be required after the Washington court made its findings. The bills now head to the House for consideration.
Perry has also called on lawmakers to use the special session to pass tougher abortion measures, a new sentencing law for 17-year-olds who commit capital crimes and a new funding mechanism for state highways and bridges. The redistricting maps and the abortion measures have made Democrats angry because they successfully blocked those measures during the regular session and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst suspended the normal rules in order to get them passed.