In December of last year, the Justice Department asserted that Texas’s redistricting plans for Congress and the state legislature violated Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act by “diminishing the ability of citizens of the United States, on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority group, to elect their preferred candidates of choice.” Today a three-judge federal court in Washington concurred with DOJ, writing that Texas’s redistricting plans were “enacted with discriminatory purpose” and did not deserve preclearance under Section 5.
Here are the relevant facts of the case: Texas gained 4.3 million new residents from 2000–10. Nearly 90 percent of that growth came from minority citizens (65 percent Hispanic, 13 percent African-American, 10 percent Asian). As a result, Texas gained four new Congressional seats, from thirty-two to thirty-six. Yet under the Congressional redistricting map passed by Texas Republicans following the 2010 election, white Republicans were awarded three of the four new seats that resulted from Democratic-leaning minority population growth. The League of Women Voters called the plan “the most extreme example of racial gerrymandering among all the redistricting proposals passed by lawmakers so far this year.”
Noted the federal court:
The Black and Hispanic communities currently make up 39.3% of Texas’s CVAP [current voting age population]. Thus, if districts were allocated proportionally, there would be 13 minority districts out of the 32 in the benchmark (39.3% of 32 is 12.6). Yet minorities have only 10 seats in the benchmark, so the representation gap is three districts. In the enacted plan, proportional representation would yield 14 ability districts (39.3% of 36 is 14.1), but there are still only 10 ability districts.
Texas Republicans went to extreme lengths in order to dilute and suppress the state’s booming minority vote, as I reported in The Nation in January (see “How the GOP is Resegregating the South”).
According to a lawsuit filed by a host of civil rights groups, “even though Whites’ share of the population declined from 52 percent to 45 percent, they remain the majority in 70 percent of Congressional Districts.” To cite just one of many examples: in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, the Hispanic population increased by 440,898, the African-American population grew by 152,825 and the white population fell by 156,742. Yet white Republicans, a minority in the metropolis, control four of five Congressional seats. Despite declining in population, white Republicans managed to pick up two Congressional seats in the Dallas and Houston areas. In fact, whites are the minority in the state’s five largest counties but control twelve of nineteen Congressional districts.
Texas Republicans not only failed to grant new power to minority voters in the state, they also took away vital economic resources from minority Democratic members of Congress.
Reported the court:
Congressman Al Green, who represents CD 9, testified that “substantial surgery” was done to his district that could not have happened by accident. The Medical Center, Astrodome, rail line, and Houston Baptist University — the “economic engines” of the district — were all removed in the enacted plan. The enacted plan also removed from CD 9 the area where Representative Green had established his district office. Likewise, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, who represents CD 18, testified that the plan removed from her district key economic generators as well as her district office. Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson of CD 30 also testified that the plan removed the American Center (home of the Dallas Mavericks), the arts district, her district office, and her home from CD 30. The mapdrawers also removed the district office, the Alamo, and the Convention Center (named after the incumbent’s father), from CD 20, a Hispanic ability district.
No such surgery was performed on the districts of Anglo incumbents. In fact, every Anglo member of Congress retained his or her district office. Anglo district boundaries were redrawn to include particular country clubs and, in one case, the school belonging to the incumbent’s grandchildren. And Texas never challenged evidence that only minority districts lost their economic centers by showing, for example, that the same types of changes had been made in Anglo districts.
The only explanation Texas offers for this pattern is “coincidence.” But if this was coincidence, it was a striking one indeed. It is difficult to believe that pure chance would lead to such results. The State also argues that it “attempted to accommodate unsolicited requests from a bipartisan group of lawmakers,” and that “[w]ithout hearing from the members, the mapdrawers did not know where district offices were located.” But we find this hard to believe as well. We are confident that the mapdrawers can not only draw maps but read them, and the locations of these district offices were not secret. The improbability of these events alone could well qualify as a “clear pattern, unexplainable on grounds other than race,” and lead us to infer a discriminatory purpose behind the Congressional Plan.
The same analysis applied to the state Senate and state House maps as well. “Texas has failed to carry its burden that [its redistricting plans] do not have the purpose or effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority group under section 5 of the Voting Rights Act,” the court wrote in its conclusion. An interim map drawn by a federal court in San Antonio in February will be used for the 2012 election.
Texas’s redistricting maps and voter ID law (which DOJ has also objected to and will soon be decided by a federal court in Washington) in many ways embody the conservative response to the country’s changing demographics. Instead of courting an increasingly diverse electorate, Republicans in Texas and elsewhere are trying to take away political power from minority voters and make it harder for them to vote.
Texas is one of seven GOP states that recently filed an amicus brief supporting a challenge to the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act before the Supreme Court. The state has already vowed to appeal the redistricting case to the Supreme Court, which could also hear Texas’s voter ID case if overturned. Texas, it should be noted, has lost more Section 5 enforcement suits than any other state. Today’s ruling is another black eye for Republicans in the Lone Star State.