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Published: Tue, March 14, 2017
U.S. | By Wayne Curry

Texas Redistricting Plan Violates Voting Rights Act, Judges Rule

Texas Redistricting Plan Violates Voting Rights Act, Judges Rule

"The political motive does not excuse or negate that use of race; rather, the use of race is ultimately problematic for precisely that reason - due to their political motive, they intentionally drew a district based on race in a location where such use of race was not justified by a compelling state interest", says the ruling. Judge Jerry E. Smith of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit dissented.

"In addition, the evidence shows that mapdrawers were more than just "aware of" race; they often referred to race in discussing the drawing of the districts, they paid close attention to the racial makeup of all districts, and they engaged in discussions about how to gain political advantage by disadvantaging Hispanic voters through the use of the 'nudge factor, '" the 166-page majority opinion states.

Legal battles over Texas redistricting have raged since 2003, when the Republican-controlled legislature took the unusual step of throwing out the 2001 maps and redrew the districts.

Garcia and Rodriguez, who were appointed by President Bill Clinton and President George W. Bush, respectively, explicitly stated that districts were drawn to "minimize Hispanic electoral opportunity".

The ruling held that Texas Republicans violated the Voting Rights act by making the borders either concentrate a lot of Latino voters in one area or split one community among two districts. That's when a number of groups brought challenges to Texas Republicans' redistricting plans.

The ruling comes as the Lone State's Latino population grew, adding four additional congressional seats after the 2010 Census. "I expect the post-Kennedy Gorsuch Supreme Court to be quite hostile to voting rights claims, allowing much partisan gerrymandering and minority vote dilution without adequate court supervision". "And the DoJ lawyers saw themselves as an expeditionary landing party arriving here, just in time, to rescue the state from oppression, obviously presuming that plaintiffs' counsel were not up to the task". Politically motivated redistricting is legal, but redistricting with an intent to reduce the influence of minority voters - either by "packing" those voters into a district, or "cracking" them among multiple districts - is not.

"This long-awaited decision demonstrates yet again that serious voting rights violations continue to occur, and that the vote-suppression deniers in Congress are delusional", said Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF president and general counsel.

The ruling paves the way for redrawn districts for next year's midterm election that could chip away at the Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives. But it has outlived its usefulness, as the Supreme Court recognized in 2013.

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