AUSTIN (AP) — Texas' attorney general asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday to block a federal court from implementing temporary, new political maps as candidates for elected offices in Texas started filing for election.
Some candidates already changed their plans — and a handful announced retirements — after a federal court in San Antonio shook things up last week by drawing new political maps for the state to use while its redistricting fight continues. A stay issued by the nation's highest court could cause more upheaval and possibly result in the March 6 primary being delayed until May.
Lawmakers redraw districts every 10 years to reflect changes in population reported by the census. Texas' Republican-controlled Legislature drew up new maps earlier this year, but minority groups sued in federal court in San Antonio, claiming the plan didn't reflect the growth in the state's Hispanic and black population.
The court has not yet ruled, but it issued new maps that could be used in the meantime that would likely lead to greater minority representation and give Democrats a chance to add as many as a dozen seats in the Legislature.
Meanwhile, a federal court in Washington has refused to approve the Legislature's redistricting plan without a trial, agreeing with the Justice Department that there was sufficient evidence to question whether it hurt minority representation. Texas, along with other states with a history of racial discrimination, can't implement its redistricting plan or other changes to voting practices without federal approval under the Voting Rights Act.
But Attorney General Greg Abbott's office has argued the legislative maps should be implemented while the Washington court's ruling is pending.
"Today's appeal emphasizes that no court has, at any time, found anything unlawful about the redistricting maps passed by the Texas Legislature," Abbott said in a statement. "It is judicial activism at its worst for judges to draw redistricting maps of their own choosing despite no finding of wrongdoing by the state of Texas."
Justice Antonin Scalia, acting for the Supreme Court, has called for responses to Abbott's arguments from challengers by 4 p.m. Thursday.
In the request for an emergency stay, Abbott's office suggested primary elections be delayed to accommodate the state's appeal on the court-drawn maps. State attorneys suggested the primaries for the affected races could be held on a date in May that is already scheduled for runoff elections.
Texas will add four congressional seats in 2012 to reflect the state's rapid population growth. Experts say three of those new seats would have gone to Republicans under the legislative plan.
While Republican leaders acknowledge they redrew districts to benefit their party, they say their plan would not hurt minority voters.
The candidate filing period, originally scheduled to start Nov. 12, has already been delayed and condensed because of the ongoing litigation. Monday was the first day candidates could file for office.
A spokeswoman for the Texas Democratic Party said candidates were filing despite the court fight.
"We're not seeing any sort of hesitation here, it's been a pretty busy day," party spokeswoman Rebecca Acuna said. The process has been "stalled a little bit ... we're moving forward with the districts the court released."
Rep. Sarah Davis, R-Houston, announced her plans to run for re-election in a Houston-area seat redrawn by the court.
"While I am disappointed that some of my friends have been carved out of House District 134 by a federal judge in San Antonio, I am excited to meet the new voters that the district has gained as a result," Davis said.