Lawyers say proposals on state House and Congress violate Voting Rights Act standards.

-By Nolan Hicks

September 20, 2011- Lawyers for the U.S. Justice Department said two of Texas' controversial redistricting maps didn't comply with the Voting Rights Act's minimum standards, finding that the proposed changes to state House and congressional districts failed to maintain or increase the ability of minorities to elect their candidates of choice.

While the department's filing in federal court in Washington, D.C., on Monday isn't binding, it virtually assures that Attorney General Greg Abbott's lawsuit will head to trial. In the past, it has usually fallen to the department to certify that Texas' redistricting plans don't violate civil rights protections. Abbott bypassed that process by taking redistricting to the court.

Legal observers expect the three-judge panel assigned to the case to set a trial date as early as Wednesday.

Preserving the ability of minority voters to elect their candidates of choice from protected districts is a key component of complying with the Civil Rights-era act.

The Justice Department had no objection to the redistricting plans for the state Senate or the State Board of Education.

Abbott spokeswoman Lauren Bean said the department's filing meant that changes to the Senate and SBOE maps could be implemented immediately. She expressed disappointment that the department had rejected the two other maps.

Minority groups and Democratic lawmakers lauded the department's position and said it added heft to their charge that the maps don't pass muster with the legislation designed to protect minority representation.



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