Texas lawmakers intentionally diluted the political clout of minority voters in drawing the state’s House districts, a panel of federal judges ruled Thursday.
In a long-awaited ruling, the San Antonio-based judges found that lawmakers in 2011 either violated the U.S. Constitution or the Voting Rights Act by intentionally diluting the strength of minority voters statewide and specifically in a litany of House districts across Texas. Those districts encompass areas including El Paso, Bexar, Nueces, Harris, Dallas and Bell counties.
“The impact of the plan was certainly to reduce minority voting opportunity statewide, resulting in even less proportional representation for minority voters,” U.S. District Judges Orlando Garcia and Xavier Rodriguez wrote in a majority opinion, adding that map-drawers’ discussions “demonstrated a hostility” toward creating minority-controlled districts despite their massive population growth.
In some instances, the judges ruled, map-drawers’ use of race to configure some districts to comply with the Voting Rights Act instead “turned the VRA on its head.”
“Instead of using race to provide equal electoral opportunity, they intentionally used it to undermine Latino voting opportunity,” they added.
Thursday’s ruling hit in the final stretch of the 2017 legislative session, scheduled to wrap up at the end of May. But because the court did not immediately order that a new map be drawn, it is unclear whether lawmakers will be forced to take action before they leave Austin.
You can see the majority decision here and the findings of fact here. I haven’t read through them yet, and the early coverage is a bit sparse, but this is what I do know. This ruling is on H283, the map passed by the Legislature in 2011. It was never implemented because it was not precleared – H309 was the map used for the 2012 election. It was drawn by the court, but it was based on H283 as SCOTUS ruled that the interim map should defer to the legislative intent and not be based on the previously existing (per-cleared) map. In 2013, the Lege passed H358, which cleaned up a couple of issues that had been in contention, and that map was used for the 2014 and 2016 elections. This Texas Redistricting post zooms in on the places where the map was found to have had problems, and what is different between the 2011 and 2013 versions.
As with the Congressional case, there was a separate suit filed regarding H358, the 2013 map. That has not yet been adjudicated, and as we know the state is seeking to appeal the ruling on the 2011 Congressional map to the Fifth Circuit. There is a status call scheduled for April 27, which is to say next Thursday, at which a whole bunch of issues will be discussed, including the plaintiffs’ proposed calendar to get a new Congressional map in place for the 2018 primaries. It is not clear at this time what if any action will be taken for the legislative map, but I see no reason why something couldn’t be in place by, say September, which would be in plenty of time for candidate filings. Needless to say, that’s getting way ahead of things, but the goal needs to be to have a resolution for the next election. Anything else would be a mockery at this point. We’ll see how it goes. Statements from MALC and Rep. Garnet Coleman are beneath the fold, and Texas Redistricting, Rick Hasen, and the Lone Star Project have more.
UPDATE: Today’s Chron story has more.
Today, a three-judge panel of the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas found that the Texas Legislature engaged in intentional vote dilution in drawing multiple Texas House districts in the 2011 redistricting plans.
State Representative Eddie Rodriguez issued the following statement regarding the order:
“Texas Republicans have admitted that they gerrymandered our electoral maps in 2011, maintaining that they did so for partisan advantage.
“But these days, mapmakers have access to interactive software tools that display granular, street-level detail and highly disaggregated information on both demographics and political behavior.
“And using this data, they carefully crafted districts to diminish Latino representation in the state and national legislative bodies. This tactic won the party nearly a decade of hegemony in Texas at the expense of our electoral system’s integrity.
“Today’s victory is the latest in a years-long struggle for justice by the Mexican American Legislative Caucus and our allies, including the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU, MALDEF, NAACP-LDF and many others.
“For years, we have waged the fight against state-sponsored discrimination without the full protections of the Voting Rights Act. Finally, the Texas House, Texas Senate and Congressional District electoral maps have all been found to be in violation of the Voting Rights Act as of today’s ruling.
“These victories would not have been possible without the tireless dedication of former MALC Chairman Trey Martinez Fischer, MALC Legal Counsel Ana Hernandez, and MALC Voting Rights Counsel Jose Garza, Martin Golando, and Michael Moran.”
Today, April 20, 2017, a panel of San Antonio-based judges found that lawmakers deliberately weakened votes of people of color in drawing the Texas House district maps in 2011. Chairman Coleman released the following statement:
“Today a panel of federal judges confirmed what we have known since 2011—that Texas lawmakers drew House districts with the intent to disenfranchise people of color. I produced demonstration maps to appropriately represent and protect communities of color in Texas alongside Harris County Representatives and my colleagues in the Texas House. I also testified at both the Washington D.C. and San Antonio hearings on how the maps drawn by the Texas Legislature intentionally discriminated against communities of color. I am glad to hear the Court made the correct ruling and I will continue to work with my fellow members to protect the voting rights of people of color in Texas.”