The Justice Department took new aim at Texas Monday, alleging that the state's new redistricting plans discriminate against Black and Latino voters.
Attorney General Merrick Garland said the state's redistricting maps approved by the Texas Legislature earlier this year effectively dilute the voting strength of people of color.
"The right to vote is foundational to our democracy," Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta said, adding that the federal government's complaint claims that Black and Latino voters have been denied an "equal opportunity" to participate in the voting process because of the reconfiguration of state voting districts.
"Several of the districts were drawn with discriminatory intent," Gupta said.
Gupta characterized the state's redistricting effort as a "rushed process" that allowed for limited public involvement and was approved with an "overall disregard" for the increases in the state's minority population.
Between 2010 and 2020, Gupta said, Texas' population grew by 4 million people, with Latinos accounting for nearly half of the overall growth, according to the federal complaint. Instead of bolstering minority voting strength based on that population growth, Gupta said Blacks and Latinos will see their influence largely diluted.
Federal authorities specifically seized on the redrawing of districts in San Antonio and El Paso.
In El Paso, the state reduced the number of majority Latino voting-age districts from six to five, according to court documents.
Garland said the lawsuit might have been unnecessary had the Supreme Court in 2013 not eliminated a key provision of the Voting Rights Act that required some states and municipalities with a history of discriminatory voting laws to obtain approval or “pre-clearance” from the Justice Department or the federal courts before enacting changes to voting practices.
The attorney general urged Congress to restore the pre-clearance requirement.
Earlier this year, lawmakers failed to advance voting rights legislation named for deceased civil rights icon and longtime Georgia Rep. John Lewis that would have restored the provision.
Texas responds: Federal action is partisan
A spokesperson for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott described the federal action as a partisan attack on the state's redistricting plan.
"We are confident that Texas’ redistricting plans will be upheld by the courts, and our office continues working with the (state) Office of the Attorney General to ensure Texans are represented fairly," Renae Eze said.
The legal action is the second in two months targeting the state's electoral practices.
Last month, Justice sued the state, challenging a law that imposes restrictions on balloting by mail and aid provided to disabled voters in polling locations.
The federal lawsuit contends that the law, known as SB 1, violates the Voting Rights Act by "improperly restricting" voters with translation needs and visual impairments from seeking help to cast their ballots. Justice also took aim at a separate provision that would allow for the rejection of mail-in ballots for errors or omissions unrelated to the voters' eligibility status.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: DOJ sues Texas over voting rights for Black and Latino voters