WASHINGTON — During questioning in federal court Tuesday of the Republican state senator in charge of redistricting, a lawyer for state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, revealed what Democrats call an explosive e-mail from state officials that suggested asking Gov. Rick Perry to call a special session of the Legislature if legal challenges drew "a really bad panel" of judges.
At issue is compliance with the Voting Rights Act, or "pre-clearance," which the state has chosen to pursue with a panel of judges instead of the Justice Department.
In an e-mail from Gerardo Interiano, the top Texas House redistricting staffer, to lawyers working for Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, he said that Doug Davis, the Senate redistricting director, had raised going to Perry if there was a problem getting judges to approve the maps.
"Doug brought up" an issue "that we hadn't considered," Interiano wrote in a June 9 e-mail, "that is we get a really bad panel and have serious concerns about the direction that things are going, that we can try to appeal to the governor and call another special."
At the time of the e-mail, the Legislature was considering the congressional map. It increased districts by four to 36, and Hispanic groups were demanding that it include majority-Latino districts to reflect the growth in Latino population.
The two judges hearing the case Tuesday, U.S. District Judges Rosemary Collyer and Beryl Howell, did not react to the memo. Collyer and a third judge, Circuit Judge Thomas Griffith, who has not been able to be in court this week, were appointed by Republican President George W. Bush. Howell was appointed by President Barack Obama.
Wendy Davis' attorney, Gerry Hebert, obtained the communication as part of an e-mail cache the three-judge panel ordered the state to release to the defense in December.
After showing the e-mail on screens in the courtroom, Hebert asked state Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, chairman of the Senate Redistricting Committee, whether seeking another special session had been discussed.
"Never," Seliger said.
In the e-mail, Interiano goes on to say that calling another special session would be "extremely unlikely" but that it was an option the Republicans involved in the process hadn't considered until Doug Davis raised it.
Asked what "really bad" meant in reference to judges, Hebert said it meant that Republicans didn't want Democrats or minorities. "They knew all along their plan was discriminatory," he said. "This is confirming evidence."
Matt Angle, director of the Lone Star Project, a Democratic advocacy group, agreed that the e-mail confirms that Republicans wanted to skirt the Voting Rights Act. "They were looking to rig the deal from the get-go."
The Texas attorney general's office declined to comment. Interiano, who is due to testify in the D.C. court again today after testifying last week, did not respond to a request for comment.