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Trump administration opposes a return to federal oversight for Texas redistricting, reversing Obama-era stance

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In the latest about-face on voting rights under President Donald Trump, the U.S. Department of Justice no longer supports efforts to force Texas back under federal oversight of its electoral map drawing.

In legal filings this week, the Justice Department indicated it would side against the voters of color, civil rights groups and Democratic lawmakers who want a three-judge federal panel in San Antonio to require Texas to seek pre-approval of its legislative and congressional maps, given previous maps that the federal judges ruled discriminatory.

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“The United States no longer believes that [federal supervision] is warranted in this case,” federal attorneys said in their filing to the court.

It’s the latest twist in the high-stakes legal fight that could return Texas to the days when it couldn’t make changes to its maps without the Justice Department or a federal court first ensuring that state lawmakers weren’t infringing on the political clout of voters of color — a voting rights safeguard that was in place for decades until 2013. And it’s the most recent reversal by the Justice Department in the case.

Under the Obama administration, the Justice Department sided with those challenging the state’s maps as discriminatory. But last year, Deputy U.S. Solicitor General Edwin Kneedler joined state attorneys in convincing the U.S. Supreme Court that Texas’ current congressional and state House maps, which were adopted in 2013, were legally sound.

In approving the state’s current maps, the high court in June wiped out a ruling by the San Antonio panel that found the maps were tainted with discrimination that was meant to thwart the voting power of Hispanic and black voters, oftentimes to keep white incumbents in office. But seemingly left untouched were previous findings of intentional discrimination at the hands of the state lawmakers who first redrew the state’s maps in 2011.

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The state’s opponents are now pointing to some of those 2011 violations in asking the San Antonio panel to consider returning Texas to federal guardianship of its maps.

“In a jurisdiction like Texas, which has consistently engaged in intentional discrimination since its inception, and which year after year attempts to sharpen and hone its ability to violate the law in more covert and artful ways, the Constitution’s promise of equal protection under the laws requires the imposition” of federal supervision, the opponents said in a November filing.

Like several other states with histories of discriminating against voters of color, Texas for decades was required to obtain federal approval of any changes to its elections, including its periodic adjustments to political boundaries to account for population growth. When the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the federal Voting Rights Act in 2013, it freed Texas from that supervision.

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But the high court left open the possibility that future, intentional discrimination could mean a return to federal oversight.

The 2011 findings of intentional discrimination coupled with “the persistent pattern of discriminatory governmental action in Texas directed at minority voters for generations” should be enough, the plaintiffs argued.

The maps lawmakers first came up with in 2011 never went into effect amid legal wrangling that eventually led to the maps the state currently uses for its elections. But the San Antonio panel still found evidence of discriminatory mapmaking, ruling that “mapdrawers acted with an impermissible intent to dilute minority voting strength” by intentionally “packing” and “cracking” voters into certain districts based on race.

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Under the Obama administration, the Justice Department sided with the plaintiffs in arguing the original 2011 maps were discriminatory.

It’s unclear whether the federal government will be allowed to formally flip its position on federal oversight for Texas. Some of the state’s opponents on Wednesday asked the court to block the Justice Department from siding with the state, arguing the federal government missed a filing deadline.

The state’s filing in opposition to a return to federal supervision is expected at the end of the month.

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The Justice Department’s new positioning in the redistricting case is in line with previous reversals in the years-long legal fight over the state’s voter identification law. In that lawsuit, the department asked a federal appeals court to allow Texas to enforce a voter ID law that a lower court found discriminatory. Former President Obama’s Justice Department originally teamed up with civil rights groups against Texas in that legal battle over concerns that the law discriminated against voters of color and elderly and poor Texans.


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UK travel giant Thomas Cook set to collapse: report

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Thomas Cook's 178-year existence was reported to be coming to an end on Monday after the British travel firm struggled to find private investment to keep it afloat, potentially affecting thousands of holidaymakers.

The operator has said it needs £200 million ($250 million) or else it will face administration, which could affect 600,000 holidaymakers and require Britain's largest peacetime repatriation.

A source close to the negotiations told AFP that the company had failed to find the cash from private investors and would collapse unless the government intervened.

But ministers are unlikely to step in due to worries about the pioneering operator's longer-term viability, the Times reported, leaving it on the brink.

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‘We are the people’: Watch Billy Porter get a standing ovation for his passionate speech at the Emmys

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In a powerful and passionate speech accepting his Emmy, "Pose" actor Billy Porter showered the audience with love and proudly reminded all of their right to belong and be loved.

"Oh, my God. God bless you all! The category is love, y'all, love!" Porter exclaimed.

The epic FX show "Pose" depicts Black and Latinos in the LGBTQ ballroom culture of New York City in the 1980s in the first season and the early 1990s in the second season.

"I am so overwhelmed and so overjoyed to have lived long enough to see this day," he said. "James Baldwin wrote, 'It took many years of vomiting up the filth I was taught about myself and half-believed, before I was able to walk on the earth as though I had a right to be here.' I have the right. You have the right. We all have the right."

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Paris show of King Tutankhamun artifacts set new record with 1.42 million visitors

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A blockbuster Tutankhamun show set a new all-time French record Sunday, with 1.42 million visitors flocking to see the exhibition in Paris, the organisers said.

The turnout beat the previous record set by another Tutankhamun show billed as the "exhibition of the century" in 1967, when 1.24 million queued to see "Tutankhamun and His Times" at the Petit Palais.

"Tutankhamun: Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh" -- which has been described as a "once in a generation" show -- will open in London in November.

The last time a show of comparable size about the boy king opened there in 1972 it sparked "Tutmania", with 1.6 million people thronging the British Museum.

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