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La Liga de Las Americas

Mexican-American groups laud Supreme Court “Texas-Latino-decision”

Associated Press Writer

(AP): Latino voters and their growing political participation were the true winners in the Supreme Court ruling rejecting Texas’ redrawing of a massive southwest Texas congressional district, a group founded by Mexican-American veterans and their lawyers said June 29.

Republicans and Democrats claimed victory in the Supreme Court ruling handed down Wednesday, but when the partisan smoke cleared, the American GI Forum and Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund said they were the only plaintiffs standing in the winner’s circle.

``The court didn't rule for Republicans and it didn't rule for Democrats. The court ruled that everyone should have a voice in politics regardless of their race or their political party,'' said Nina Perales, the MALDEF attorney who argued on behalf of the American GI Forum.

The court agreed with the veterans group and MALDEF that removing 100,000 Latinos from the 23rd Congressional District represented by Republican Rep. Henry Bonilla and replacing them with largely white voters violated the Voting Rights Act.

At about the time they were removed, the Latinos were voting in enough numbers to influence the outcome of the district's congressional race. Without them, the Latino voter influence in the district was reduced.

The 100,000 Latinos “were cut out of District 23 because they were becoming politically effective, because they were beginning to participate,'' Perales said.

Perales said experts testified that Latinos were increasingly voting against Bonilla as the district's Latino population was increasing. Republicans recognized Bonilla was in trouble politically when they wrote in an Oct. 5, 2003 memo that one goal of redrawing Texas districts was “helping Bonilla.''

Bonilla says there are no statistics to show how Latinos were voting and the party was not redrawing the district to ensure he could win, but to ensure Republicans could win in the future.

``There's a myth that exists out there that it's about Henry Bonilla and it was really about a long term need to keep this district in the majority's hands,'' he said

The court rejected all other challenges to the 2003 redrawing of Texas' other congressional districts, which Republicans hailed as their victory.

Some have tried to downplay the significance of redrawing Bonilla’s district. Bonilla said fixing his district is “a nuisance'' and Republicans in Congress said they got it 97 percent right if only one of 32 districts were rejected by the court.

But Antonio Gil Morales, national commander of the American GI Forum, said he thinks Bonilla ``has lost sight of his roots.'' Carving 100,000 Latinos out of the district, including some who have supported Bonilla, was discrimination and the redrawing had ``racial overtones,'' he said.

``It stems from the publicity about us as the largest minority, that we're growing so fast and one of every four in the U.S. is going to be Latino and people are beginning to react to that and they are finding ways to prevent it from happening,'' Gil Morales said.

The American GI Forum, founded in Corpus Christi, has been fighting discrimination against Mexican Americans and other Latinos for years. The group was founded by Dr. Hector P. García who recognized that Mexican-American World War II veterans were not getting their due benefits.

Although Gil Morales said he doubts the episode will hurt Republicans outreach to Latino voters, he warned there is a lesson in the ruling.

``The main thing is, hey, don't change the rules on us now that we are learning all the rules and we want to vote,'' Gil Morales said. ``Tell us why to vote for you.''

On the Net: American GI Forum: http://www.agif.us; Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund: http://www.maldef.org/; Rep. Henry Bonilla: http://bonilla.house.gov/





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