DoJ sues Texas, saying electoral map plans violate Voting Rights Act

·4 min read
<span>Photograph: Matt York/AP</span>
Photograph: Matt York/AP

Redistricting proposals violate section 2 by denying rights to Latino and Black voters, attorney general Merrick Garland says


lThe US Department of Justice is suing Texas over its new electoral maps, saying the plans violate the Voting Rights Act by making it more difficult for Black and Latino voters to elect their preferred candidates.

Related: ‘Time is running out’: can Congress pass a voting rights bill after months of failure?

Minority voters accounted for 95% of population growth in Texas over the last decade but there are no new majority-minority districts in the new plans. Texas gained two new seats in Congress because of its high population growth over the last decade.

Republicans who control the redistricting process drew the lines to shore up their advantage across Texas, blunting the surge in the state’s non-white population. The new maps give Republicans a hold on 25 of Texas’s 38 congressional seats and help them maintain their majorities in the state legislature, where they’ve pushed a sweeping number of conservative policies, including anti-abortion measures and easing gun regulations.

The DoJ suit says Texas violated section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits voting practices that discriminate on the basis of race.

“The complaint that we filed today alleges that Texas violated section 2 by creating redistricting plans that deny or abridge the rights of Latino and Black voters to vote on account of their race, color or membership in a language or minority group,” Merrick Garland, the attorney general, told reporters.

Vanita Gupta, the No 3 official at the justice department, said some of the districts were drawn with “discriminatory intent”. She also noted that Texas is a repeat offender when it comes to voting discrimination, highlighting that courts have repeatedly found that the state has discriminated against minority voters over the last several decades.

The suit, filed in federal court in El Paso, claims Republicans “deliberately” reconfigured the 23rd congressional district in west Texas, where Latinos currently have a fair opportunity to elect the candidate of their choice, to make it more white and Republican.

Republicans also “surgically excised minority communities” from the Dallas-Fort Worth area and attached them to whiter, rural areas that vote Republican, where the power of their ballot would be diminished. Courts have repeatedly found Republicans undertook similar efforts in the same part of Texas during previous redistricting cycles.

Lawmakers also failed to draw districts that accounted for the growing Latino electorate in Harris county, home of Houston.

The lawsuit asks the federal court to halt any future elections from taking place under the new maps for Congress and the Texas House of Representatives and to come up with an interim plan while the case proceeds. The filing period for candidates in Texas for next year’s elections, set to take place under the challenged maps, is already underway.

The suit also says the mapmaking process was “extraordinarily rapid and opaque”.

“Once the special [redistricting] session began, redistricting plans and amendments moved at a rapid pace with little transparency and limited opportunities for witness testimony,” lawyers wrote.

Related: ‘Time is running out’: can Congress pass a voting rights bill after months of failure?

They added: “Minority legislators frequently decried the compressed timeline, changes made without traditional deference to local delegations, the inability to invite expert testimony, the minimal opportunities for public input, and an overall disregard for massive minority population growth in Texas over the last decade.”

Several other advocacy groups have already filed challenges to the Texas maps. This is the first redistricting lawsuit the DoJ has filed this year.

Last week, the DoJ made filings in three cases challenging new voting restrictions in Arizona, Texas and Florida, defending the scope of Section 2.

In their Monday press conference, both Garland and Gupta called for Congress to restore a provision of the Voting Rights Act that required states with a history of voting discrimination, including Texas, to get electoral maps and voting changes approved by the federal government before they went into effect.

The US supreme court gutted that provision in 2013. In 2011, the DoJ used the provision to prevent some of Texas’s initial proposed maps from going into effect.

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