Texas Redistricting Plan Violates Voting Rights Act


Last Friday, a 3 judge-panel in San Antonio ruled that Texas’ congressional map was in violation of both the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act. As a result Texas must redraw their congressional district map.

This has been an important issue to me for many years. In 2011, I wrote a letter which you can read in its entirety here to the Justice Department to call attention to the redistricting plan that passed in the Texas House in 2011 that suppressed the voices of minority voters. In 2012, I testified in front of the federal D.C. district court urging the panel to not approve the Texas electoral maps under the pre-clearance requirement of article V of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). Before that case could be decided the U.S. Supreme Court wrongly struck down the article V  pre-clearance requirement of the VRA in Shelby County v. Holder – making the 2012 case moot.

Before the Shelby County decision, Texas House District 147 and all of Texas was subject to the pre-clearence requirement of article V of the VRA. Meaning that changes made to voting laws and electoral maps needed to be first approved by the Department of Justice to ensure the changes were not discriminatory. Article V was vitally important in protecting the rights of people of color in Texas and across the south where there has been a history of voter suppression. Without article V pre-clearance, discriminatory laws like voter ID and the current maps have been allowed to go into effect and determine the outcome of elections and balance of power in our state and nation.

Despite the setback, my colleagues, allies and I were not deterred and sued the State again in a San Antonio court that the maps as drawn were discriminatory against minorities under the 14th amendment. Additionally, our case against the State attempted to enact a previously little known section of the Voting Rights Act that provides another method to subject certain jurisdictions to pre-clearance. Instead of a coverage formula, jurisdictions can be “bailed in” to a pre-clearance requirement through a federal lawsuit. The current court has yet to decide if Texas should be bailed in to a pre-clearance requirement. However, last Friday’s victory shows that it is a very real possibility Texas could be bailed in.

I also testified in front of the three-judge panel in San Antonio in 2014 that the maps as drawn discriminate against minority voters and in particular communities of color. The testimony given by me and others helped the judges determine that the Texas congressional map discriminated against minority voters.

In last week’s ruling, the court found that “mapdrawers acted with an impermissible intent to dilute minority voting strength.” Unfortunately, this is not a new issue. Over the years, despite population growth that is predominately non-Anglo, the Republican-drawn maps have reduced the number of effective districts where Black, Hispanic, and Asian voters could elect the candidates of their choice. I have been strongly opposed to this kind of voter suppression and have worked for years to bring attention to it.

The three-judge panel in San Antonio has yet to rule on the Texas House district map. We expect the ruling on the state house districts to come out soon, along with the decision of whether or not Texas will be bailed back into the pre-clearance requirement of the Voting Rights Act.

I will continue to update you on redistricting matters and developments.

The New York Times featured an editorial about redistricting in Texas this week, which you can read below. You can also click here to read.

Texas Needs a Remedial Lesson on Voting Rights
MARCH 17, 2017

In Texas, which has for decades made an art of violating the voting rights of minorities, officials and lawmakers can’t seem to keep their hands clean. Now, the state may become the first to have its voting practices placed under federal oversight since the Supreme Court struck down a central part of the Voting Rights Act in 2013.

A Federal District Court in San Antonio ruled on March 10 that the state’s Republican-led Legislature redrew congressional district lines in 2011 with the intent to dilute the voting power of Latino and black citizens, who tend to vote Democratic.

In two districts — one encompassing parts of South and West Texas, and the other in the Dallas-Fort Worth area — the court found that mapmakers used various methods that violated the Constitution or the Voting Rights Act. In the former, a Latino-majority district, they broke up cohesive Latino areas, pulled in Latino voters with lower turnout rates while excluding those with higher turnout rates, and included more high-turnout white voters.

The maps were first blocked in 2012 by a federal court in Washington, D.C., because Texas, along with several other states and jurisdictions with long histories of racial discrimination in voting, was required at the time to get federal approval for all changes to its voting laws or practices. Under this process, known as preclearance, Texas’ 2011 voter-ID law was also blocked. After the Supreme Court in 2013 invalidated the provision of the Voting Rights Act that determined who was subject to preclearance, Texas lawmakers jumped at the chance to restore the voter-ID law. (That law was struck down last summer by a federal appeals court for discriminating against black and Latino voters.) Local officials were also emboldened. In the city of Pasadena, where Latinos are the majority, Mayor Johnny Isbell quickly moved to change the city’s election system in a way that kept control of the City Council in white hands.

When asked why he did it, Mr. Isbell said, “Because the Justice Department can no longer tell us what to do.”

Mr. Isbell spoke too soon. In January, a federal judge placed Pasadena back under federal oversight, relying on the rarely used Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act, which allows a court to require pre-approval for voting changes if it finds evidence of intentional racial discrimination.

Last week’s ruling on Texas’ district lines — which also found intentional discrimination — sets the stage for the entire state to be brought back under federal oversight. If the court chooses to use Section 3 to impose this penalty, it would have broad power to shape its terms — including how long to monitor the state, and what types of voting practices would need to be pre-approved. Unfortunately, federal oversight in 2017 doesn’t mean what it did last year. Not with a Justice Department led by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who throughout his career has shown more interest in prosecuting minorities over bogus voter-fraud cases than in protecting minority voting rights. Under his leadership, the department has already reversed course in Texas’ voter-ID litigation, dropping its objection to the law last month.

Since the department has the final say on virtually all proposed changes, discriminatory laws could take effect even in places that must seek pre-approval. Still, there’s every reason for the court to take an aggressive approach here. If any state should be monitored for its racially discriminatory voting practices, it’s Texas.

Thank you to Dr. Robert Sanborn with Children At Risk and Mandi Kimball for having me on Growing Up In America on Monday to discuss HB 1845 that I authored relating to free prekindergarten. Click here to listen to the segment on 90.1 KPFT Houston.

Save the date: Join Houston Southeast to review and comment on the Preliminary Houston Southeast Community Plan for a community meeting on March 30th at the Third Ward Multi-Service Center. You can find more information below or call 713-942-0500.

Our song of the week is “Maps” by Macy Gray.

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