Federal court rejects Texas Congressional, state legislative redistricting

29
Aug

Federal court rejects Texas Congressional, state legislative redistricting

From the Wall Street Journal:

WASHINGTON—Texas’ Republican-controlled legislature disenfranchised minorities with the electoral maps it drew following the 2010 census, a federal court here found Tuesday. The court suggested the results were no accident, as the state contended, but rather the product of “discriminatory intent.”
The ruling won’t affect the November election, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said. The state will keep using interim electoral maps made by a federal court in San Antonio, which is hearing a separate challenge to the state’s redistricting plans. Mr. Abbott said he would appeal Tuesday’s ruling to the Supreme Court.

After the census, Texas gained four congressional seats, for a total of 36, following explosive population growth. While nearly 90% of the state’s 4.3 million new residents are Hispanic, black or Asian-American, none of the new seats crafted by the legislature and approved by Republican Gov. Rick Perry allow minorities to elect their chosen candidate, according to the ruling by a special three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The panel cited a violation of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

The court also rejected the state’s maps for the state Senate and House of Representatives.

Supreme Court precedents permit gerrymandering to favor a political party but not to disenfranchise minorities. That distinction is in some ways semantic, the court said, because all parties agree “that minority voters in Texas vote overwhelmingly Democratic.”

and The Washington Post:

The three-judge special panel in Washington said Texas could not prove that plans for the state’s congressional districts and both houses of the legislature were not drawn without intentional discrimination against the state’s burgeoning Latino population. In addition, it said new district lines removed the “economic guts” from congressional districts now held by African-Americans.

“The only explanation Texas offers for this pattern is ‘coincidence,’ ” wrote U.S. Circuit Judge Thomas B. Griffith.“But if this was coincidence, it was a striking one indeed.”

The judges noted that Texas received four additional congressional districts after the 2010 census because the state’s population grew by about 4.3 million people.

Latinos accounted for 65 percent of the increase, blacks 13.4 percent and Asian-Americans 10.1 percent.

The Obama administration and those involved in the litigation contended that at least one of the new districts should have been drawn to enable a minority to be elected, the court said.

“We agree,” the judges added.

and finally, the Austin Stateman:

Although the panel found no direct evidence that the maps were intentionally discriminatory, the opinion by U.S. Circuit Judge Thomas Griffith noted several instances suggesting racial bias:

■ In the maps for Congress, three black Democratic representatives in Houston and Dallas were given new districts that excluded long-established offices where constituent services are provided. No Anglo incumbents were similarly inconvenienced, the court said.

The districts were further harmed when significant economic generators, including large businesses or universities, were relocated to adjacent Anglo districts, Griffith wrote.

“The only explanation Texas offers for this pattern is ‘coincidence.’ But if this was coincidence, it was a striking one indeed,” Griffith wrote. “It is difficult to believe that pure chance would lead to such results.”

■ The Texas Senate map improperly targeted the Fort Worth district represented by Sen. Wendy Davis, a Democrat, by “cracking” the minority population — placing African American and Hispanic voters in three other districts that shared few common interests.

Texas lawyers said the move was best explained by partisan, not racial, goals — a “plausible explanation,” Griffith noted, if not for the way the Senate map was drawn.

Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo and chairman of the redistricting committee, escorted many Republican senators into an anteroom off the Senate floor to review drafts of maps. Democrats, and Davis in particular, were excluded from providing input, Griffith wrote.

“One would expect a state that is as experienced with (voting rights) litigation as Texas to have ensured that its redistricting process was beyond reproach,” he wrote.

■ The 150 Texas House districts were redrawn without adding one “Hispanic opportunity district” — where Hispanic voters have an opportunity to elect their preferred candidates — despite dramatic growth in the state’s Latino population, the court found.

Tuesday’s decision also found that mapmakers improperly diluted minority voting strength in three congressional districts, including District 25, currently represented by U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin — although U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell disagreed, writing in a dissent that Doggett’s district did not qualify for voting-rights protection.

All three judges — two appointed by a Republican president, one by a Democrat — agreed that Texas erred by failing to draw another minority opportunity district for Congress.

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