Yesterday, in a panel of federal judges ruled that two Texas congressional districts were unconstitutionally drawn. This could result in redrawn congressional districts for the 2018 election cycle that will be more competitive and more representative of the changing demographics of the state.
The ruling came after a six-year fight on the redistricting process that followed the 2010 census. The initial maps were drawn by lawmakers in 2011, some of which was ruled unconstitutional earlier this year, and never went into effect. And as the 2012 elections approached, the courts were forced to redraw interim maps, and in 2013, lawmakers voted to keep the interim maps in place.
From the Texas Tribune:
Federal judges invalidated two Texas congressional districts Tuesday, ruling that they must be fixed by either the Legislature or a federal court.
A three-judge panel in San Antonio unanimously ruled that Congressional Districts 27 and 35 violate the U.S. Constitution and the federal Voting Rights Act.
The judges found that Hispanic voters in Congressional District 27, represented by U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi, were “intentionally deprived of their opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice.” Congressional District 35— a Central Texas district represented by Democrat Lloyd Doggett of Austin — was deemed “an impermissible racial gerrymander” because lawmakers illegally used race as the predominant factor in drawing it, the judges wrote.
Here’s how The New York Times described the ruling:
In a 107-page ruling — part of a long-running legal battle — a three-judge panel of the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas found that District 27, which includes Corpus Christi, had been drawn to deny voters in a heavily Hispanic county “their opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice,” and that race had been the primary factor in drawing District 35, a narrow strip that stretches from San Antonio to Austin.
The judges, however, upheld the validity of other districts, including ones that had been challenged in Houston and in the Dallas/Fort Worth area.
The panel, in San Antonio, ruled that state officials had adopted the map in question in 2013 as part of a deliberate strategy to maintain “discrimination or unconstitutional effects” while preventing voters from challenging those effects. If Texas legislators do not begin a redistricting process, the court will hold a hearing on Sept. 5 to discuss remedies.
Ken Paxton, the Texas attorney general, said in a statement that his office would ask the United States Supreme Court to hear the case. Opponents of the districts that the court upheld could also seek Supreme Court review.
Of course, Ken Paxton will appeal following this major loss. He’s been a dogged opponent of fairness and equality in Texas and has been more than willing to defend discrimination in the courts. (He’s also facing a trial for securities fraud in December.)
This ruling is an important development as the population of Texas continues to grow and diversify. That population growth resulted in additional congressional seats in 2010. But, those seats did not reflect the changing demographics – and that was intentional, the court found. More from Texas Tribune:
The ruling comes as state Republicans continue to grapple with the state’s rapidly changing demographics.
Texas is becoming less white each day, creating headaches for the party that currently dominates state government as minorities — particularly Hispanic and black voters — overwhelmingly support Democrats in elections.
State leaders’ attempt to confront that growth in their latest round of redistricting landed them in legal trouble.
Texas has not disputed that it practiced an extreme version of gerrymandering in 2011. But the state’s lawyers have argued that partisanship, not race, motivated them.
But in Texas and elsewhere, race and partisanship are often intertwined, and opponents of the maps successfully argued — in a few cases, at least — that lawmakers advanced their party’s interests by improperly looking to race.
It’s unclear what Tuesday’s ruling will mean for the future of federal oversight in crafting Texas election laws.
Ari Berman from Mother Jones reported, “This is the seventh time since 2011 that a federal court has found that Texas intentionally discriminated against minority voters, through its redistricting plans and strict voter ID law.” From unconstitutional redistricting at both the state and federal level to unconstitutional voter ID laws (which a federal judge this year found had a “discriminatory impact”), what is clear is that Texas’s Republican elected officials do not want the state to reflect its changing demographics.