News Worms
News Worms

Texas made gerrymandering mess and now needs to clean it up

Texas made gerrymandering mess and now needs to clean it up

Commentary: A federal court ruled Friday that the Texas Legislature's 2011 redistricting plan for congress discriminated against Latino voters in violation of the federal Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution.

A panel of judges said Republican legislators altered the districts in 2011 so minority votes would carry less weight.

The ruling held that Texas Republicans violated the Voting Rights act by making the borders either concentrate a lot of Latino voters in one area or split one community among two districts.

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While the ruling only includes three districts, if they must be redrawn to more evenly distribute the state's Hispanic population, it could have ripple effects on a number of neighboring districts that could also become more competitive for Democrats. Typically, redistricting occurs once every 10 years after the US census. Yet white Republicans, a minority in the metropolis, control four of five Congressional seats. If they don't, it's likely all three districts will be redrawn before the 2020 census dictates the usual round of redistricting.

"If you set out to draw a map for political reasons, it will often look like you are drawing it for racial reasons", Ross Ramsey, executive editor and co-founder of the Texas Tribune said, "and the courts decided in this case that they went over the line and that they drew for racial reasons and that they went too far".

Any appeal from the decision of the three-judge trial court would go directly to the United States Supreme Court.

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Texas was forced ahead of the November election to weaken its voter ID law, which allows concealed handgun licenses but not college student IDs, after a federal appeals court found that the requirements particularly hampered minorities and the poor. Nina Perales is vice president of litigation for MALDEF, the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which was counsel for Latino challengers to the redistricting plan.

Two of the three districts found to be illegal are held by Republicans; the third, Texas's 35th district, is held by Democrat Lloyd Doggett.

Judge Jerry Smith wrote a sharp dissent, with harsh words for the Justice Department. "And the DoJ lawyers saw themselves as an expeditionary landing party arriving here, just in time, to rescue the state from oppression, obviously presuming that plaintiffs' counsel were not up to the task". These voters' needs must be addressed, they said. But it has outlived its usefulness, as the Supreme Court recognized in 2013.

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