Use of Texas congressional map contested
Court asked to prohibit use of 3 districts — one in Austin — ruled illegal.
With less than eight months until the next election season begins, minority voters and civil rights groups have asked a federal court to prohibit Texas from using congressional districts that were found to have been drawn in violation of the U.S. Voting Rights Act.
The motion, filed Thursday night with a three-judge panel in U.S. District Court in San Antonio, followed a March 10 ruling by the same panel that invalidated three districts, including one in Travis County.
That 2-1 ruling said the districts were drawn by Republicans to intentionally discriminate against Latino and black voters — but it didn’t mandate any remedies or discuss how to correct the problems.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton will oppose the motion, which also asked the judges to ensure that a new, legal map was in place by July 1.
“We will be filing a response detailing why the relief requested is improper at this stage of the litigation,” said Marc Rylander, a spokesman for Paxton.
Paxton has argued that there is no need to redraw the congressional map because the court invalidated districts that the Legislature approved in 2011, while Texans have been electing members of Congress according to a map that was adopted in 2013.
But, according to the motion filed Thursday, the three districts that were invalidated in the 2011 map were little changed in the 2013 version.
To let those districts remain in force for the upcoming election would put millions of Texans at risk of electing members of Congress “under a legally invalid plan,” the motion said.
“It can hardly be disputed that the public has an interest in having congressional representatives elected in accordance with the Constitution,” the motion said.
The filing also urged the three-judge panel to act quickly, noting that candidate filing for the 2018 election begins in November, and Texas counties would need time to realign voting precincts to match newly drawn boundaries.
The motion asked the court to order Texas officials to submit a new congressional redistricting plan by May 5, with a map due from the plaintiffs one week later.
The goal is final, court-approved districts by July 1, and the proposed schedule provides “ample time” for the Legislature, which is in session until May 29, to draft a new map, the motion said.
State Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, is vice chairman of the House Redistricting Committee and has called for hearings on the court ruling.
“The court’s concerns regarding the constitutional rights of minority voters in the state of Texas should be taken seriously and addressed with urgency,” Johnson said Wednesday in a letter, his second such request to the committee’s chairwoman, Rep. Cindy Burkett, R-Sunnyvale.
No committee action is scheduled, John McCord, Burkett’s chief of staff, said Friday.
“Chairwoman Burkett is continuing to monitor the developments in the lawsuit, but no hearings are scheduled at this time,” he said.
The fight over districts began in 2011, when the members of the Legislature began drawing a map to accommodate four new congressional seats awarded to fast-growing Texas.
The resulting map was challenged by minority voters, civil rights groups and several minority members of Congress, leading to the longawaited ruling two weeks ago. (The court hasn’t yet ruled on a similar challenge to the redrawn districts for the Texas House.)
The ruling determined that District 35 — held by U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin — was improperly drawn with race as the predominant factor to minimize the number of Democratic seats. By drawing Doggett’s district with a majority Hispanic population extending into San Antonio, the Republican-controlled Legislature was able to “create the facade of complying” with the Voting Rights Act while eliminating an existing Democratic district, the panel ruled.
As a result, the Democratic stronghold of Travis County was broken into five congressional districts, four of them represented by Republicans.
The panel also invalidated two Republican-held districts that judges said were drawn to dilute the strength of Latino voters:
District 27 — held by U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi — which includes the Coastal Bend along the Gulf of Mexico and stretches north to include southern Bastrop County.
District 23 — held by U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes — a sprawling section along the Mexican border that extends from near El Paso to the San Antonio area.
District 35 — held by U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin — was improperly drawn with race as the predominant factor, a court ruled.