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Judge sets trial date for redistricting lawsuit

Updated:

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ A lawsuit seeking court intervention in the congressional redistricting process will go to trial May 13 unless motions to dismiss or postpone the filing are approved, a judge ruled Tuesday.

Republicans filed the lawsuit, alleging that the Legislature won't be able to enact a plan before the state election process officially starts July 8, the beginning of three-day filing period.

Motions are expected to be filed Friday to dismiss the lawsuit or postpone it until it is determined the Legislature cannot enact a plan before it adjourns May 31, The Daily Oklahoman reported.

Congressional redistricting is undertaken after each U.S. census count. This time, lawmakers are reconfiguring the districts to account for the loss of one of Oklahoma's six seats in the U.S. House. Oklahoma didn't grow as fast as others in the past 10 years.

District Judge Niles Jackson met with attorneys on both sides Tuesday to develop a schedule for hearing motions and trying the case.

Don Holladay, attorney for the state House of Representatives, said he planned to file a motion Friday for a stay in the case until the legislative session ends.

Holladay said his motion likely will say the district court cannot interfere with the congressional redistricting process until the Legislature fails to act on it.

Arguments on Holladay's motion and any other motions are scheduled for March 15, Jackson said.

Chad Alexander, chairman of the Oklahoma Republican Party, and six other Republicans filed the lawsuit in Oklahoma County, naming the state Election Board, Gov. Frank Keating, Senate leader Stratton Taylor, D-Claremore, and House Speaker Larry Adair, D-Stilwell, as defendants.

Secretary of State Mike Hunter, who is representing Keating, told Jackson that a congressional redistricting plan must be developed in a timely manner because county election boards must draw new precinct lines to accommodate the new congressional boundaries before the elections.

Population shifts since the 1990 census could result in 40 to 50 new precincts in Oklahoma, Hunter said.

Fred Leibrock, attorney for the Republicans who filed the lawsuit, said dates should be set for hearing motions and trying the case because little time will be left for the court to develop a redistricting plan if the Legislature adjourns May 31 without one.

Legislators are considering three plans _ one by Keating and the present congressional delegation, the other two by state House Democrats.

Attorneys for those wanting the court to take over the redistricting plan said Jackson could hear the case and withhold his decision until it was determined the Legislature would be unable to enact a plan.

Jackson has been nominated to be a federal bankruptcy judge. If that nomination is finalized before the trial begins, District Judge Vicki Robertson would take over the case, he said.
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