It has been a long battle lasting several years, but voting rights advocates have won a major victory in Texas over Republican efforts since 2011 to illegally redraw congressional district maps to disenfranchise Latinx and other voters.
In a 2-1 ruling Friday night, a federal panel of judges in San Antonio found that maps approved in 2011 by the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature were drawn with discriminatory intent, The Associated Press reported.
In the majority opinion, U.S. District Judges Xavier Rodriguez and Orlando Garcia wrote, “The record indicates not just a hostility toward Democrat districts, but a hostility to minority districts, and a willingness to use race for partisan advantage," the AP reported.
The judges said some of the state’s 36 congressional districts violate the Constitution or the Voting Rights Act, particularly District 23 represented by Republican Will Hurd, District 27 represented by Republican Blake Farenthold, and District 35 represented by Democrat Lloyd Doggett, The Texas Tribune reported.
According to the Tribune:
In 2013, the district court found evidence that lawmakers intentionally discriminated when redrawing the boundaries. But the U.S. Supreme Court soon complicated the case when it struck down a key section of the Voting Rights Act that had forced Texas to seek permission before making changes to election procedures.
But that didn’t end the legal battle. The U.S. Department of Justice and other plaintiffs pressed on in the case, and Texas held elections using interim maps drawn by judges.
Both Democrats—who could stand to gain congressional seats in 2018 because of the ruling—and Latinx rights groups celebrated Friday’s win, with Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa calling the decision a “BIG victory for Texans.”
“The court’s decision exposes the Texas Legislature’s illegal effort to dilute the vote of Texas Latinos,” lead counsel on the case Nina Perales, of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, told AP. “Moving forward, the ruling will help protect Latinos from manipulation of district lines in order to reduce their political clout.”
The fight over redistricting in Texas still has a long way to go, as the panel of judges did not order immediate corrective measures to fix the gerrymandering, and the case likely will head to the Supreme Court.
Still, the ruling is good news for black and Latinx voters in Texas after a recent setback over efforts to rescind the state’s draconian voter ID laws, which then-Gov. Rick Perry signed into law in 2011.
Last week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who strongly believes in using the myth of voter fraud to suppress voting rights, reversed course from the Obama administration on Texas voter ID litigation by ordering the Justice Department to drop its legal claim in the ongoing case.