CHRIS TOMLINSON,Associated Press
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas voting laws were on the agenda Monday at a White House conference on voting rights, according to a Democratic lawmaker in attendance.
State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer of San Antonio was the only elected Texas official to meet with President Barack Obama to discuss a national strategy to protect voting rights following a U.S. Supreme Court decision nullifying a section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Martinez Fisher said the administration pledged to work with civil rights groups, particularly those in Texas that say the state’s political maps are unfair to minorities.
“There was a lot of discussion about Texas, there were a lot of questions about Texas litigation and the president himself mentioned Texas redistricting as something he wanted to have an impact on,” he said.
Martinez Fischer is the chairman of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus in the Texas House, one of the plaintiffs in a voting rights lawsuit in San Antonio that challenges the state’s election maps. The NAACP and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund are also part of the suit and had representatives at the White House on Monday.
A federal district court in Washington D.C. found that maps adopted in 2011 by the Republican majority in the Texas Legislature intentionally discriminated against minorities. This year, the Legislature officially adopted temporary maps drawn by federal judges in San Antonio. But minority groups say those maps did not far enough to correct the problems created by the 2011 maps.
Republican lawmakers, meanwhile, insist that the maps drawn by federal judges should be good enough and do not discriminate.
The case was made more complicated when the U.S. Supreme Court suspended a section of the Voting Rights Act that listed Texas as a jurisdiction that needed preclearance for any changes to election law with either Department of Justice or the district court in Washington.
Last week, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder joined Martinez Fischer and the other plaintiffs in asking the federal judges in San Antonio to force Texas to continue seeking preclearance of election laws because of the finding of intentional discrimination last year.
Gov. Rick Perry said Holder’s call showed “utter contempt” for the Constitution, and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, now running for governor, promised to fight the proposal.
Martinez Fischer said all of the national voting rights lawyers and civil rights leaders at the conference Monday were following the Texas lawsuit and offered to help fight it.
“There is interest in making sure we coordinate and that we make our best case,” he said. “There is a commitment that the Department of Justice will be as aggressive as they always have been. … I suspect we may see more from the Department of Justice.”
Abbott, who prides himself on suing the Obama administration in what he says is a defense of state’s rights, insists none of Texas’ laws discriminate against minorities and has expressed confidence the state will prevail.
The judges in San Antonio could rule as early as next month. If they find that the existing maps do discriminate, they will likely draw new maps and extend the lawsuit. That would likely delay the state’s March 4 primary elections.