Judges order Texas court to redraw electoral maps

supreme court graphic : Map and flag of Texas with gavel.

A three-judge panel in Washington on Tuesday ruled that Texas lawmakers did not sufficiently ensure that the state's new electoral maps protect minority voting rights. The federal panel ordered a court in Texas to redraw the maps -- a development that's likely to benefit Democrats ahead of the 2012 elections.

Under rules dictated by the Voting Rights Act, states with a history of segregation must have their redistricting plans approved by the Justice Department's civil rights division or the D.C. federal court. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott opted to have the court review it and asked the panel to fast-track it.

The court ordered today, "The Court finds and concludes that the State of Texas used an improper standard or methodology to determine which districts afford minority voters the ability to elect their preferred candidates of choice."

Now, with the 2012 elections getting into gear, it's up to the District Court for the Western District of Texas to design an interim plan by the end of November.

Meanwhile, there will be a full trial to determine whether the state's redistricting plan appropriately represents minorities. The Justice Department told the three-judge panel (made up of one judge appointed by President Obama and two appointed by former President George W. Bush) that it thought the maps were "adopted with discriminatory purpose."

Texas gained four congressional seats after the 2010 Census, which showed that the state's population surge over the last decade was largely attributable to the growing Latino population -- a reliably Democratic voting bloc. The state is now nearly 38 percent Latino, with non-Hispanic whites making up 45 percent of the state.

The Texas legislature drew a map that created one new Hispanic congressional district and three new Republican seats. They also modified an existing Democratic district so that it's now Republican-leaning, spurring its current representative, Democratic Rep. Lloyd Doggett, to run in a Democratic primary in the newly drawn majority-Latino district.