Analysis: Justice Department's redistricting suit is latest chapter in Texas' history of voter suppression

click to enlarge Texas' latest voting maps decrease the number of districts in which Latinos make up the majority of eligible voters from 33 to 30. - Sanford Nowlin
Sanford Nowlin
Texas' latest voting maps decrease the number of districts in which Latinos make up the majority of eligible voters from 33 to 30.
For the second time in a month, the U.S. Justice Department has sued Texas over concerns that the state is trampling residents' voting rights.

In November, President Joe Biden's Justice Department sued the state over a law passed by the GOP lawmakers that gives unprecedented access to partisan poll watchers and prohibits county voting officials from expanding access with innovations such as drive-thru voting and 24-hour polling places.

The latest suit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court for the Western Division of Texas, accuses Republican state lawmakers of discriminating against against Latinos and other minorities when they drew up new districts in a bid to shore up the voting power of white Texans.  

The latest legal action is entirely predictable. And given Texas' past history of voter suppression, scholars also predict the feds will be successful in throwing out the latest maps, which drop the number of districts in which Hispanics make up the majority of eligible voters from 33 to 30.

The conservative-dominated U.S. Supreme Court in 2019 declined to prohibit partisan gerrymandering. However, it's still a violation of the federal Voting Rights Act to create districts that discriminate against racial and ethnic minorities.

“This is not the first time Texas has acted to minimize the voting rights of its minority citizens. Decade after decade, Texas has enacted redistricting plans that violate the Voting Rights Act,” the Justice Department said in its suit.

To the feds' point, the Texas Legislature draws new political maps every 10 years, and last decade's similar attempt to tamp down the power of minority voters also faced legal action from the federal government. Ultimately, those were redrawn after a lengthy court fight.

That battle was one of many in the Lone Star State's long and shameful history of voter suppression, legal scholars point out.

In a September interview with the Current, St. Mary's University Law Professor Albert Kauffman said the latest maps are so egregious in their effort to block minority voting power that their court defeat looks inevitable.

"Seeing the proposed plans now by the state, they'll be easy to beat," said Kauffman, who spent two decades as senior litigating attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, or MALDEF.

"[It's] clear that they have diluted a lot of areas where you could have elected an additional Latino or additional African American member of Congress or the Senate," he added. "So, I just think there's no doubt about that."

The Justice Department's latest suit follows at others by voting-rights groups challenging Texas' new maps. Voting-rights proponents praised the Biden White House's legal action, saying it once again highlights Texas Republicans' willingness to put partisan gain ahead of residents' constitutional rights.

"Clearly, this shows that the Voting Rights Act is needed now more than ever as we have seen that the Republicans of Texas don’t follow the law, don't follow the Constitution and not even the basic tenants of fairness and equity," LULAC National President Domingo Garcia said in an emailed statement.

"It is an indisputable fact that 95% of the growth in Texas from 2010 to 2020 is because of minority communities," Garcia added. "Yet, when Texas is the only state that gets two new congressional districts, Republicans crack and pack the process to create two new white Republican districts! The result is clear and intentional discrimination of the most blatant sort not seen since the 1950s."

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