WASHINGTON, D.C. (Nexstar) — The U.S. Department of Justice is suing the state of Texas, saying the state’s new redistricting maps deny and dilute votes from people of color.
The DOJ says Texas’ new maps purposely violate Section 2 of the federal Voting Rights Act based on certain voters’ race and/or minority group — also known as “vote dilution.”
“Section 2 prohibits vote dilution, which occurs when an electoral practice minimizes or cancels out the voting strength of a racial group or language minority group… Discriminatory voting schemes are illegal. The Department’s voting law experts have assessed Texas’ new redistricting plans and determined that they include districts that violate the Voting Rights Act.”
In a press conference Monday, U.S. Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta pointed to Texas’ two new congressional districts specifically. The state gained two seats due to its population growth from the 2010 to 2020 U.S. Census. Texas grew by nearly 4 million residents, with an estimated 95% of that growth due to Latino and Black residents.
“…Texas has designed both of those new seats to have white voting majorities,” she said. “The congressional plan also deliberately reconfigured a west Texas district to eliminate the opportunity for Latino voters to elect a representative of their choice.”
Spokesperson for Gov. Greg Abbott Renae Eze said in a statement to KXAN, “It’s no surprise that Democrats in Washington are attacking our state’s redistricting plans. We are confident that Texas’ redistricting plans will be upheld by the courts, and our office continues working with the Office of the Attorney General to ensure Texans are represented fairly.”
The redistricting lawsuit comes just a month after the DOJ filed a separate lawsuit against Texas over the passage of Senate Bill 1, which was signed into law in September. SB 1 bans 24-hour polling locations, increases ID requirements and implements restrictions on drive-thru voting and voting by mail.
Texas Republican lawmakers have supported the legislation, which arose amid a nationwide push by the GOP to crack down on alleged voter fraud.
SB 1 and similar bills have been condemned by Democrats and other voters, who say the legislation is intended to prevent voters of color from casting ballots.
“A core principal of our democracy is that voters should choose their representatives — not the other way around,” U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a briefing Monday. “Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act requires state voting laws — including laws that draw electoral maps — provide eligible voters with equal opportunity to participate in the democratic process and elect representatives of their choosing.”
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton quickly took to Twitter to call the lawsuit into question, saying it’s the Biden administration’s “latest ploy to control Texas voters.”
Gupta noted in the press conference this lawsuit is not the first time Texas has faced pushback over its redistricting plans.
“This is the third time in three decades where Texas has eliminated a Latino electoral opportunity in this same district, despite previous court determinations that this violates the law,” she said. “And the state House plan eliminated Latino electoral opportunities by manipulating or eliminating districts where Latino communities previously had elected their preferred candidates.”
Previous challenges to Texas redistricting plans following new census data typically came from advocacy groups. Garland made a point to express frustration about the elimination of pre-clearance, which he said “had been the department’s best tool for protecting voting rights.”
Pre-clearance was an aspect of the federal Voting Rights Act that required states with a history of discrimination to have voting districts or election rules pre-approved by the Justice Department. It was eliminated by Congress and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013.
“I want to again urge Congress to restore the Justice Department’s preclearance authority where that preclearance tool still in place, we would likely not be here today announcing this complaint,” Garland said.
The DOJ says it’s putting all its resources into pursuing these cases. It is asking the U.S. Western District Court in Austin to stop Texas from holding elections under these challenged maps and to order Texas to create new redistricting plans. That may be an issue for the primaries, as the state’s primary election is scheduled for March 1.