Federal Court Blocks Texas Redistricting Plan, Says it Discriminates against Latinos

August 28, 2012

by Jeremy Leaming

Texas lawmakers’ plans to create new voting districts fail the parameters of the Voting Rights Act by discriminating against Latino voters, a federal court ruled today.

Texas like a number of other states and localities must abide by the Voting Rights Act, which includes a section that requires those jurisdictions to receive preclearance for redistricting plans. The Voting Rights Act applies to states and localities that have a history of discriminating against classes of voters. Texas did not seek administrative preclearance and instead sought approval of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

The federal government opposed preclearance for some of Texas’s redistricting plan, but the three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court concluded that none of the state’s redistricting plan “merits preclearance.” (Texas sought to create new voting districts for its congressional delegation and its State House of Representatives as well as for the Texas Senate.)

In attaining preclearance Texas needed to prove that “its redistricting plans have neither the effect nor the purpose of abridging minority voting rights.” The federal court found that Texas whiffed on that requirement. Texas tried to persuade the federal court that precedent allows the state to use its own method to determine whether its new voting districts would harm minority voters. The federal panel said, the state “is entitled to advocate its preferred methods of measuring minority voting strength, as we address those arguments below, but we need not defer to a state’s legal theory on how best to measure minority voters’ ability to elect.”

After meticulously going through the various plans for the new voting districts, the federal court concluded in State of Texas v. U.S. that Texas failed to prove that its U.S. congressional and State House plans would not undercut Hispanic voters, “and that the U.S .Congressional and State Senate Plans were not enacted with discriminatory purpose.” The state therefore failed to “carry its burden” in showing its proposed voting districts would not “have the purpose or effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority group under section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.”

The redistricting plan backed by Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) is likely to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, theAustin American-Statesman reported. The state’s Attorney General Greg Abbott told the newspaper, “Today’s decision extends the Voting Rights Act beyond the limits intended by Congress and beyond the boundaries imposed by the Constitution.”

But Perry and a string of other Texas politicians have long grumbled about the reach of the Voting Rights Act, and for that matter the federal government in general. So in reality it appears the federal court got it right – Texas lawmakers, regardless of their rhetoric, set out to undermine the efforts of minorities to participate in democracy. The federal court after an exhaustive look at the evidence surrounding the creation of those proposed voting districts rightly concluded that they ran afoul of a major federal civil rights law. It was not in the federal court’s purview, but others could add that the efforts of the Texas politicians were not only lame but ignoble.  

[image via Gage Skidmore]