Court: GOP remap cheated mi­nori­ties

Judges find leg­is­la­tors in­ten­tion­ally drew lines to fa­vor Repub­li­cans

The Dallas Morning News - - FRONT PAGE - By JAMES BARRAGÁN Staff Writer jbar­ra­gan@dal­las­news.com

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.”

Di­luted votes

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.

What’s ahead

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.”

File Photo/Kye R. Lee

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.

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