Court: GOP remap cheated minorities
Judges find legislators intentionally drew lines to favor Republicans
Texas statehouse districts drawn by the Republican-led Legislature in 2011 intentionally diluted the votes of minorities, violating the U.S. Constitution and parts of the Voting Rights Act, a federal court ruled Thursday.
In a 2-1 ruling, a three-judge panel in San Antonio found that the maps gave Republicans an advantage in elections and weakened the balloting strength of minority voters. House districts in Dallas and Tarrant counties were among those in which the judges ruled that minority voters had seen their clout weakened.
The ruling is another blow to the state in its six-year legal battle over the redrawing of political maps. Last month, the same court found that the state’s congressional maps were drawn with intent to dis-
criminate against minority voters, and it invalidated three congressional districts. And last week, a federal judge ruled that the state’s voter ID law was written with intent to discriminate.
“The evidence of the mapdrawing process supports the conclusion that mapdrawers were motivated in part by an intent to dilute minority voting strength,” U.S. District Judges Xavier Rodriguez and Orlando Garcia wrote in the 171-page ruling. “Discussions among mapdrawers demonstrated a hostility to creating any new minority districts as those were seen to be a loss of Republican seats, despite the massive minority population growth statewide.”
In dissent, Judge Jerry Smith of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said that the panel’s majority opinion was based on a “misunderstanding” of the law and that the court had no jurisdiction to rule on the 2011 House map. He said the majority opinion’s findings were “so extreme as to defy logic and reason.”
But the plaintiffs hailed the ruling.
“This is yet another example of political discrimination by the state of Texas against minority voters,” said Dallas Democratic state Rep. Rafael Anchia, chairman of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, which is a plaintiff in the case.
“Thousands of minority voters are being denied their right to an equal opportunity to choose their elected representatives, just to preserve the party in power,” Anchia said in a written statement. “It took nearly six years of legislative and court battles to confirm that the party in power discriminated against communities of color when drawing Texas congressional and House of Representative maps.”
Rep. Chris Turner of Arlington, the leader of the House Democratic Caucus, said the court’s findings were “shameful and unacceptable — new maps must be drawn immediately.”
Marc Rylander, a spokesman for state Attorney General Ken Paxton, said in a written statement that Paxton’s office disagreed with the ruling and remained confident about its case.
“As 5th Circuit Judge Jerry Smith observed in his dissent, the challenges to the old 2011 maps are not only moot but ‘a finding that racial considerations were dominant and controlling defies everything about this record,’ ” he said. “Accordingly, we are confident we will ultimately prevail in this case.”
The panel found that the Legislature’s drawing of the House map as a whole had intentionally diluted votes, specifically in almost all urban counties, including Dallas, El Paso, Tarrant, Harris and Bexar. The maps originated in a House redistricting committee made up of 12 Republicans and five Democrats.
The court said the maps drawn for Dallas County House Districts 103, 104 and 105 were intended to protect Republican incumbents in elections and violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act — which prohibits discrimination — and the 14th Amendment.
“The Court finds that mapdrawers improperly used race with an intent to dilute Latino voting strength by wasting Latino votes in HD103 and HD104, and creating a more Anglo HD105 to protect the Anglo Republican incumbent in the general election,” the ruling said.
Specifically, the court said that Latino voters were packed more heavily into western Dallas County Districts 103 and 104. Meanwhile, the court found, District 105 in Irving and Grand Prairie was drawn awkwardly to pick up white voters to protect incumbent Republican Rodney Anderson.
The ruling also heavily criticized the lines drawn for several Tarrant County districts, siding with the plaintiffs’ argument that the “bizarre” shapes of House Districts 90, 93 and 95 could be explained only by racial gerrymandering intended to dilute Latino voting strength in those areas.
The court also found that the state’s map had racially gerrymandered House District 117 in Bexar County. The maps also violated the “one person, one vote” rule — which is aimed at ensuring that all districts have roughly equal populations — in Nueces and Hidalgo counties in South Texas and Bell and Lampasas counties in Central Texas.
The panel’s rulings will be discussed at a status conference set for Thursday in San Antonio. At that time, the parties will decide whether the case still needs to go to trial. If it does, both sides will be expected to lay out a timeline to finish the trial and appeal before the 2018 elections. Plaintiffs in the case have called on the court to block the use of the state’s electoral maps for that election and to draw new ones.
The plaintiffs also could ask the court to punish the state by demanding that it get federal permission before making any changes to election laws. Texas was previously on what is known as the “pre-clearance” list, which required states with a history of discrimination to get federal approval before making changes. But a 2013 U.S. Supreme Court ruling took Texas and other states off that list. If a U.S. district court moved in that direction, Texas would be the first state to be put back on the list since the ruling.
Thursday’s ruling provided more fuel for Democratic lawmakers who have called on the Legislature to address the issue of redistricting during the current session.
“We need Speaker Joe Straus and Redistricting Chair Cindy Burkett to acknowledge the Court’s ruling and address this issue with the urgency it demands,” Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, said in a written statement. “The people of Texas deserve leadership that is going to stand up and protect the voting rights of Texans.”
Rodney Anderson campaigned in Irving in October 2014 en route to winning the Texas House District 105 seat. The district, in Irving and Grand Prairie, was drawn to be more Anglo to protect the Republican, a federal court found.