Federal Court Dumps Texas Political Map

  • August 29, 2012
  • By Jim Malewitz

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled Tuesday (August 28) that Texas' Republican-led redistricting process discriminated against its minority populations. The state's Congressional, House and Senate plans eroded the clout of the state's soaring Latino population while removing the “economic guts” from black districts, the three-judge panel said.

Black and Hispanic members of Congress had testified that they were excluded completely from the redistricting process, while opinions from whites were sought and heeded.

Because of a history of discrimination, Texas is among those states required to submit redistricting plans for federal approval under Section 5 of the U.S. Voting Rights Act. The state's plans have been challenged in court in each of the past four decades. Each time, Texas has lost.

Plaintiffs were not required to provide hard evidence — such as emails, letters or testimony among those carrying out redistricting — of the state's intent to discriminate. It was up to Texas to prove there was no intent, which it failed to do.

“The only explanation Texas offers for this pattern is ‘coincidence,'” wrote Judge Thomas Griffith in his 154-page ruling. “But if this was coincidence, it was a striking one indeed. It is difficult to believe that pure chance would lead to such results.”

Critics of Texas' redistricting process hailed the ruling as a civil rights victory.  

“Today's decision is yet another nail in the coffin of the redistricting plans enacted by the Texas Legislature,” Nina Perales, a vice president of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, said in a statement. “The State should stop wasting money on further litigation and focus on securing fair election maps for all Texans.”

It's not clear whether the ruling will affect the November election. Political parties have already chosen nominees under federally drawn interim maps.  

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who said the decision “extends the Voting Rights Act beyond the limits intended by Congress and beyond the boundaries imposed by the Constitution,” said elections will proceed as planned under those maps. He said the state will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, a separate panel of judges is expected to rule this week on Texas' controversial voter ID law, which critics say aims to suppress minority turnout. 

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