The new redistricting plan federal judges announced last week for the Texas state House of Representatives creates three additional districts where Latinos will have a good chance to elect a candidate of their choice, activists said.
A group of citizens and politicians represented by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund presented a complaint several months ago in which they accused the Republican-controlled state legislature of manipulating maps to favor the GOP.
At the beginning of November, the U.S. Justice Department said that the redistricting proposed by the legislature would reduce the ability of minority voters to elect the candidates they preferred.
The map issued last week by a three-judge panel in San Antonio will remain in effect pending final resolution of various legal challenges to the redistricting plan.
"The court's action vindicates the continued vitality and importance of the federal Voting Rights Act in protecting the rights of Latino voters, whose rights and interests were completely neglected by the Texas legislature," MALDEF's president and general counsel, Thomas Saenz, said in a statement.
The judges' map creates a new, largely Hispanic state House district in the Rio Grande Valley and increases the Latino population of two existing districts in El Paso and Houston, respectively.
"Now, we can talk about eight seats in the lower house for the Valley. The judiciary has prevailed and acknowledges the population growth of Hispanics," said state Rep. Veronica Gonzalez (D-McAllen), who aspires to a fifth term next year.
Rep. Jessica Farrar, a Democrat who represents District 148 in Houston, considers the ruling a win for her party and for the state's Hispanic population, which grew more than 65 percent in the past 10 years, according to Census figures.
"And it was the Republicans supporting the presidential candidacy of (Texas Gov.) Rick Perry who also undertook to get the state into debt with budget cuts that forced teachers to be fired and social services for children, the elderly and pregnant women (to be cut)," Farrar said.
Republicans currently enjoy an advantage of 101-49 in the Texas lower house.
According to Census data, 37.6 percent of the Texas population is of Latino origin but less than half of them are registered to vote and many of the state's Hispanic citizens are minors.