Last week, a three judge panel ruled 2-1 that a Texas statehouse redistricting plan crafted by the state legislature was unconstitutional as it purposely sought to weaken minority votes.
U.S District Judges Xavier Rodriguez and Orlando Garcia wrote, “Discussions among map drawers 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.”
The House redistricting committee, made up of 12 Republicans and 5 Democrats, targeted the urban counties of Dallas, El Paso, Tarrant, Harris and Bexar, drawing the districts in such a way that protected Republican incumbents and violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and the Fourteenth Amendment. The court said that the “bizarre” shapes of some counties could only be explained by an intention to weaken Latino votes.
In addition, the map did not grant equal representation, violating the “one person, one vote” rule, as some districts were drawn with larger populations than others.
Just last month this same panel of federal judges determined that Texas’s congressional maps, also redrawn in 2011, were unconstitutional and discriminated against minority voters. The ruling stated that the redistricting plan “intentionally drew a district based on race in a location where such use of race was not justified by a compelling state interest.”
Both rulings can be appealed to the Supreme Court, and the plaintiffs in the cases can request that the state be placed under federal supervision when passing future election laws.
Two weeks ago, Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas ruled for the second time that Texas’s 2011 voter ID law was passed with the intent to discriminate against black and Hispanic voters. After he had come to this decision the first time, the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, the most conservative federal appeals court in the country, ruled that the law was racially discriminatory and disproportionately hindered people of color, but sent the case back down to Ramos to rehear the argument of intent to discriminate. His decision two weeks ago reaffirmed that claim.
The law required individuals to show a limited selection of government issued photo identification when they went to vote. The approved IDs included military IDs and concealed handgun carry permits, but forbade employee photo IDs and university photo IDs. The law was found to purposely privilege forms of identification that were more likely to be held by white voters and excluded those more likely to belong to people of color.
In February, Attorney General Jeff Sessions withdrew the Obama era objection to Texas’s draconian voter ID law, but the case proceeded because there were many other parties involved in the lawsuit including Texas voters who had actively been denied the right to vote.
Texas had been one of the states whose election laws were under federal supervision under the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In 2013, the Supreme Court overturned the provision requiring specific states to seek federal approval, freeing Texas to pass whatever election laws it pleased. Voting rights activists have stated that if that provision of the Voting Rights Act was still in place, Texas taxpayers would have been spared the significant legal costs incurred defending these unconstitutional laws.
Media Resources: Dallas Morning News 4/21/17; NPR 3/11/17; CNN 3/12/17; Feminist Majority Foundation 2/28; Vice 4/21/17