With hearings on redistricting scheduled for next week and deadlines for April primaries pending, a panel of federal judges told lawyers Friday afternoon to redouble their efforts to reach a quick settlement on interim political maps for the state’s congressional and legislative elections. That’s not the first time they’ve told the lawyers to talk, but negotiations stalled this week when the state and some plaintiffs reached an agreement that several other plaintiffs didn’t like. In their order this afternoon, the judges said that proposal is still very much alive. They said they want to set an April primary. And they want negotiations to resume “with all due effort” before the hearings that begin next Tuesday.
The judges included a footnote to their order that refers to a Supreme Court decision in a North Carolina case: It says the Voting Rights Act doesn’t require political mapmakers to create so-called “coalition districts” where two or more minority groups might combine to form a majority. They’re allowed, but not required. According to Rick Hasen, a professor at the University of California at Irvine School of Law, it means the state can leave existing coalition districts alone, but doesn’t have to create new ones. That could undermine some of the arguments made by various plaintiffs in the Texas case and restrict the settlement talks to districts where Black or Latino voters can form majorities on their own.