Texas lawmakers illegally drew 3 voting districts on racial lines, court rules

Illustration by Anneke Paterson  Todd Wiseman

Illustration by Anneke Paterson Todd Wiseman

On Friday, a federal district court in San Antonio ruled in a 2-1 vote that some of the state's congressional districts violated the federal Voting Rights Act or the U.S. Constitution.

Legal battles over Texas redistricting have raged since 2003, when the Republican-controlled legislature took the unusual step of throwing out the 2001 maps and redrew the districts.

"Because of their political motive, they intentionally drew a district based on race in a location where such use of race was not justified by a compelling state interest", wrote U.S. District Judges Xavier Rodriguez and Orlando Garcia.

The ruling, however, does not offer an immediate fix and Texas could appeal the decision to the Supreme Court. Congressional District 27, represented by Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi, resembles a shoe with an elongated tongue and runs from just outside Austin to the Gulf of Mexico west to Kingsville and north again toward Austin with, of course, a few zigs and zags en route. The judges also said Republicans tried to use race to unseat Doggett, by making a primary challenge by a Hispanic candidate more likely given the new demographics of his district.

Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton did not immediately remark on the ruling. According to a lawsuit filed by a host of civil rights groups, "even though Whites' share of the population declined from 52 percent to 45 percent, they remain the majority in 70 percent of Congressional Districts". But U.S. Circuit Judge Jerry Smith, in a blistering dissent, had strong words for Obama administration attorneys after they joined the case. The court concluded that in the southwestern 23rd Congressional district [Govtrack backgrounder] alone, boundary lines were drawn to move more than 600,000 voters between districts, thereby fracturing a heavily Latino county to deliberately lessen minority voter turnout rates. "And the DoJ lawyers saw themselves as an expeditionary landing party arriving here, just in time, to rescue the state from oppression, obviously presuming that plaintiffs' counsel were not up to the task". A 2013 U.S. Supreme Court ruling did away with preclearance by striking down a key provision in the federal Voting Rights Act.

This federal court's decision "hopefully will allow the court to put Texas back under federal supervision because it's clear now after the warnings in Texas voter I.D. and Texas redistricting that Texas needs to be under federal supervision for its voting changes", says Perales.

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