Federal judges deny request to put Texas back under federal supervision for redistricting

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AUSTIN (Texas Tribune) — After a years-long fight over Texas’ political maps, a panel of federal judges on Wednesday denied the requests of voters of color, civil rights groups and Democratic lawmakers to put Texas back under federal supervision of its redistricting.

Though they noted “grave concerns” about Texas’ past conduct, the judges who have overseen the long-winding case against the state ruled that the drastic intervention was not warranted despite previously ruling that state lawmakers discriminated against voters of color when they first drew up new maps in 2011.

The judges found that Texas’ unconstitutional actions in 2011 — purposefully diluting the voting strength of voters of color in the Texas House map and in several congressional districts — were sufficient to require Texas to run any future changes by the court to ensure they weren’t discriminatory. But they ultimately ruled against imposing that federal oversight because of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling last year in which it upheld the state’s current maps, which were redrawn in 2013 after the 2011 maps were challenged in court.

“Although the Court’s findings of intentional racial discrimination in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment with regard to the 2011 plans are sufficient to trigger bail-in, and although the court has serious concerns about the state’s past conduct, the various requests for discretionary relief … are hereby denied,” the judges wrote in their order.

In that ruling, the Supreme Court pushed aside claims that lawmakers intentionally discriminated against voters of color when they signed off on boundaries for the state’s congressional and state House districts in 2013.

Though findings of intentional discrimination against the 2011 maps, which were never used, remained intact, the panel of federal judges said they were bound by the Supreme Court’s opinion that “nothing further remains to be remedied.”

The outcome is a massive loss for those who had hoped that Texas — a repeat offender when it comes to undermining the voting rights of people of color — would be back under federal oversight of its map-drawing ahead of 2021, when lawmakers will have to redraw maps to account for population growth.

Because of its history of voter suppression, Texas for decades was required to run any changes to its elections, including adjustments to political boundaries, by the U.S. Department of Justice or a federal court to ensure they wouldn’t discriminate against voters of color. The state was freed from that supervision in 2013, when the Supreme Court ruled the formula that kept states like Texas under federal oversight was outdated.

The federal Voting Rights Act left open the possibility that Texas could be “bailed in” to preclearance if a court found it had recently intentionally discriminated against voters of color.

The state’s opponents pressed forward with those high-stakes efforts last year when it asked the panel of judges to consider imposing that supervision.

“If the bail in statute means anything…it has to apply to Texas redistricting,” said Allison Riggs, a lawyer with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice argued at a May hearing. “Texas redistricting is where the state again and again and again at every level of government has shown a resistance to recognizing the political power of minority voters.”

The state fought back against those efforts, arguing the Texas shouldn’t be placed back under federal oversight based on findings against maps that were never used, especially after the Supreme Court found no intentional discrimination behind the state’s 2013 effort to replace those maps.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at www.texastribune.org. The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans – and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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