- The new GOP-dominated 33rd District, anchored by the western Fort Worth suburbs, could be converted into a Latino Democratic seat anchored by Dallas's west side. There are enough Latinos in the area to draw a district that would be more than 70 percent Latino by total population, but experts differ on whether there are enough to form an effective voting majority in a compact district.
- The newly GOP-enhanced 23rd District, which stretches from El Paso to San Antonio and is designed for Canseco, could be redrawn if courts find (as they did last decade) that the new district intentionally diminishes Latino voters' chances of electing a candidate of their choice. If it were redrawn to perform 8 or 9 points more Democratic, Canseco would likely be out of luck.
- In the Perry-signed map, Austin's Travis County is split five ways to dilute Democratic voting strength. The newly GOP-dominated 25th District, stretching from Austin to just south of Fort Worth, could be redrawn to reunite the non-Latino majority portion of Travis County into one congressional district, creating separate effective districts for Democratic incumbent Doggett and a new Latino Democrat.
- MALDEF and other Latino advocacy groups point out that the Houston area is home to more Latinos than any other metro area of the state, yet it lacks a single Latino member of Congress (the only Latino majority seat in the area elects Rep. Gene Green, an Anglo Ddemocrat). The new 36th District east of Houston could be redrawn as a new 65 percent Hispanic seat on the city's southwest side.
Several Republicans also acknowledge that it would be possible to create a third Democratic-leaning seat in the Dallas-Fort Worth area if GOP Rep. Kay Granger's 12th District were redrawn to include the most minority-heavy neighborhoods in the city. But this might get in the way of a new Latino-majority district connecting Dallas and Fort Worth.
Although Republicans might be able to live with one of these changes to satisfy the Voting Rights Act, two or more would be a serious backfire. Democrats argue a map that would truly reflect the state's partisan balance would give them closer to 15 seats than 10, and their outlook depends on whether judges recognize this in drawing the state's lines.
Republicans believe the courts are in a weaker position to intervene than they were 10 years ago, because this time, the state Legislature has actually passed a plan. Further, several note it's possible that state courts could push back the election calendar, including the March primary, to allow the federal preclearance process to work itself out. But Texas redistricting could be more like a game of hot potato: Whoever has issued the latest ruling by the time the music stops will determine the map in effect for the 2012 elections.
If Texas Republicans are stuck with a court-drawn plan they don't like for 2012, they could conceivably attempt to pass a revised map in time for the 2014 midterms, much as they did last decade. However, if President Obama wins reelection, it would still be subject to the same preclearance hurdles in a Democratic-appointed Justice Department. So what could end this game of one-upmanship once and for all? Perhaps the highest court in the land.
Any ruling by the three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia can automatically be appealed to the Supreme Court, and if Republicans can't get their map precleared by the panel, it's doubtful the high court would issue a ruling in time for the 2012 elections. But legal experts are buzzing about a high-stakes case much larger than Texas: a pending constitutional challenge to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which could make the Justice Department's redistricting oversight role irrelevant beyond 2012.
CORRECTIONS: An earlier version of the story mistakenly characterized MALDEF attorney Nina Perales' objections to the Texas redistricting map. Her concerns center on the reduced voting power for Hispanics in the 23rd Congressional District. An earlier version of the story also misidentified the federal court that will rule on the redistricting map. It is the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.