Texas redistricting court battles just getting started


The court fights have already begun over Texas’ new political maps, which secure the GOP’s grip on power for the next decade but blunt the voting strength of nonwhite voters who fueled the state’s population surge.

The decennial redistricting process following a U.S. census is polarizing and typically leads to lawsuits in Texas. Lawmakers can draw maps in a way that benefits their party’s political future as long as they do not discriminate on the basis of race.

Court challengers say the redrawn congressional, legislative and State Board of Education maps do not reflect the major growth of the Hispanic community. People of color accounted for 95% of the state’s population boom over the last decade, with much of the growth concentrated in cities and suburban areas, census data shows.

Those gains led Texas to pick up two new U.S. House seats, which went to the Houston and Austin areas under the plan, favoring white candidates. Democrats and voting rights groups have also criticized the state Senate redraw, which splits communities of color in Tarrant County Democrat Beverly Powell’s district.

This year, Republican lawmakers have a clearer path toward using the lines they want, as Texas is no longer required to get federal approval on new political maps. For decades, every Texas redistricting plan has been either changed or tossed out by a federal court after being found in violation of the Voting Rights Act.

The new maps are generally expected to withstand legal challenges, but battles over aspects of the boundaries could last several years. Here’s what you need to know about redistricting lawsuits in Texas.

Challenging the maps

Plaintiff: Mexican American Legislative Caucus in the Texas House

What the lawsuits argue: In a federal suit, the caucus argues the redrawn congressional, Texas House and State Board of Education maps are intentionally racially discriminatory and dilute Latino voting strength, in violation of the federal Voting Rights Act and U.S. Constitution.

The plaintiffs’ legal team asked the court to block the maps from being used in elections and to set in motion a plan for alternative boundaries.

MALC is also challenging the state House plan in Texas state court, arguing the redraw violates the Texas Constitution.

What’s next: The cases were filed Nov. 3 in federal court in Austin and in state district court in Travis County.

Plaintiff: Voto Latino

What the lawsuit argues: Advocacy organization Voto Latino and a group of individual voters argue the new U.S. House boundaries dilute Latino and Black voting strength in violation of the federal Voting Rights Act.

The plaintiffs’ legal team asked the federal court to block the map and “order the adoption of a valid congressional redistricting plan” that includes an additional majority-Latino or majority-Black and Latino district in the Dallas Fort-Worth metropolitan area, among other changes to the map.

What’s next: The case was filed Oct. 25 in federal court in Austin.

Plaintiff: League of United Latin American Citizens, represented by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund

What the lawsuit argues: Before lines were finalized, the legal rights group representing a coalition of Latino organizations asked the federal court to toss out the new maps, arguing all four plans violate the federal Voting Rights Act and dilute the voting strength of Latino voters.

The plaintiffs’ lawyers asked the court to set a “reasonable deadline” for state officials to enact new redistricting plans — and to order such plans, if the state fails to adopt them.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs also argued the state’s current maps are unconstitutional and should be blocked from use in future elections. The plaintiffs include LULAC, the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project and Mi Familia Vota, among other organizations and individual voters.

What’s next: The case, filed Oct. 18 in federal court in El Paso, has been assigned to a three-judge panel of Reagan appointee Jerry Smith, Obama appointee David Guaderrama and Trump appointee Jeffrey V. Brown.

Challenging the process

Plaintiff: Democratic state Sens. Roland Gutierrez and Sarah Eckhardt

What the lawsuit argues: Ahead of lawmakers’ third special session, two Democratic state senators sued to block the Legislature from redistricting in a special session this year. The senators argued the Texas Constitution requires that redistricting be done in a regular session that won’t happen until 2023.

If successful, the federal lawsuit by Sens. Eckhardt of Austin and Gutierrez of San Antonio, with political organization Tejano Democrats, would require judges to create interim redistricting plans for the Legislature to use in the 2022 election cycle.

What’s next: The case, filed Sept. 1 in federal court in Austin, has been assigned to a three-judge panel of Reagan appointee Jerry Smith, Obama appointee Robert Pitman and Trump appointee Jeffrey V. Brown.

State lawyers have asked the court to consolidate the LULAC case with the senators’ case, and asked the court to abstain from a state matter. The officials also argued the plaintiffs misinterpreted the state constitution and cannot challenge the old maps.

On Tuesday, both sides indicated that the plaintiffs intend to pursue similar claims in state court. The three-judge panel then ordered the parties to file a joint status report “when they have determined the impact of the litigation in state court on this case.”

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