Federal Judges Find Texas Lege Discriminated Against Minority Voters — Again

In the words of a federal appeals court, the Texas Legislature "turned the Voting Rights Act on its head" while drawing redistricting lines in 2011, using race to help guide their decisions.

On Thursday, the San Antonio-based three-judge panel found in a 2-1 decision that Texas had intentionally sought to reduce the power of the Latino vote based on how it drew the redistricting map that year, calling the maps unconstitutional. This is the third time this year that federal judges have ruled that Texas lawmakers have intentionally discriminated against minority voters, and the second time in as many months that this same panel of federal judges have.

Specific counties affected included Bexar, Harris, Dallas and Hidalgo, in the Rio Grande Valley. U.S. District Judges Xavier Rodriguez and Orlando Garcia wrote in the majority opinion that map drawers "demonstrated a hostility" toward minority-majority areas that should have retained their voting power as minority-controlled districts.

“The impact of the plan was certainly to reduce minority voting opportunity statewide, resulting in even less proportional representation for minority voters,” they wrote, later adding: “Instead of using race to provide equal electoral opportunity, they intentionally used it to undermine Latino voting opportunity."

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton indicated in a statement that he wasn't done fighting this case—per usual.

“We respectfully disagree with the redistricting panel’s 2-1 decision," he wrote. "As Fifth Circuit Judge Jerry Smith observed in his dissent, the challenge to the old 2011 maps are not only moot but ‘a finding that racial considerations were dominant and controlling defies everything about this record.’ Accordingly, we are confident we will ultimately prevail in this case.”

Last month, these same judges ruled that three congressional districts were drawn with the intent to dilute the minority vote. Earlier in April, U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos found that Texas's 2011 voter ID law was enacted with the intent to discriminate against minority voters and keep them from the polls. Her final decision came after she had already ruled this in 2014; the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals had affirmed her ruling that the voter ID law, requiring voters to show a valid photo ID in order to vote, was unconstitutional, but asked her to reconsider whether it was intentionally discriminatory. Ramos did not change her mind.

Voting advocacy groups praised the ruling Thursday. Ed Espinosa, of Progress Texas, said in a statement: "Texas is one of the most diverse states in the nation, yet Republican-drawn maps were an indefensible exercise to deny people of color fair representation. Our diversity is a strength and today the courts have ruled that Republicans will no longer attempt to turn it into weakness."
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Meagan Flynn is a staff writer at the Houston Press who, despite covering criminal justice and other political squabbles in Harris County, drinks only one small cup of coffee per day.
Contact: Meagan Flynn