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Court: Texas redistricting didn't protect minority voters

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Court: Texas redistricting didn't protect minority voters

New political maps tossed by federal appeals court

  • Photo illustration by Todd Wiseman/Texas Tribune

Texas lawmakers didn’t comply with the Voting Rights Act when they drew new maps for congressional, state Senate and state House districts, a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., ruled Tuesday.

“We conclude that Texas has failed to show that any of the redistricting plans merits preclearance,” the court said.

Attorney General Greg Abbott immediately said — via Twitter — that the state will appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The court wasn’t ruling on interim maps drawn by federal judges — the maps in use for the current election — but on those drawn by state lawmakers last year. Lawyers are still looking through the opinions for anything that might disrupt the current elections.

Texas and other states with histories of discrimination have to have federal approval for any changes in voting laws and political maps. Instead of going to the U.S. Department of Justice for that "preclearance," Abbott's office opted to ask the federal court in D.C. That court has had the maps in hand for months; while it was working on a decision, another federal court, meeting in San Antonio, put its own redistricting maps in place. Those court-drawn maps are being used in the current elections while those drawn by the Legislature are still tangled in appeals. 

“We conclude that Texas has not met its burden to show that the U.S. Congressional and State House Plans will not have a retrogressive effect, and that the U.S. Congressional and State Senate Plans were not enacted with discriminatory purpose,” the judges said in their opinion. “Accordingly, we deny Texas declaratory relief. Texas has failed to carry its burden that Plans C185, S148, and H283 do 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.”

That section of the voting law is designed to keep new maps from eroding the ability of minority voters to elect candidates of their choice. The court singled out problems in congressional districts 23 and 27 and in several state House districts. 

Ross Ramsey is executive editor of The Texas Tribune.

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