Minority groups have outnumbered whites in Texas since roughly 2004, and 55.2 percent of the state’s residents are now minorities, according to Census figures. As of 2011, the state’s legislature was more than two-thirds white.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office declined to comment on the specifics of the rulings, but Abbott has promised to appeal both cases to the U.S. Supreme Court. In news releases, he said that the Supreme Court had already upheld voter-ID laws, and that the redistricting decision “extends the Voting Rights Act beyond the limits intended by Congress and beyond the boundaries imposed by the Constitution.”
Both decisions hinged on Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires certain states with a history of racial discrimination in voting — including Texas — to prove that any changes in their voting laws or procedures do not hamper the voting rights of minorities. Enacted in 1965, the Voting Rights Act aimed to eliminate discriminatory voting practices that had long been used to suppress the black vote, particularly in southern states. Section 5 has been challenged, including in two cases pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, as an outdated provision that unfairly singles out certain states. The Court has not decided if it will hear the cases.
The rulings detailed several examples of discriminatory practices in Texas:
1. Lawmakers drew some districts that looked like Latino majority districts on paper — but removed Latinos who voted regularly and replaced them with Latinos who were unlikely to vote.
In the redistricting case, a panel of three federal judges found that Texas lawmakers had intentionally created districts that would weaken the influence of Latino voters, while appearing to satisfy the requirements of the Voting Rights Act.
In drawing Texas’ 23rd congressional district, the judges found that “The mapdrawers consciously replaced many of the district’s active Hispanic voters with low-turnout Hispanic voters in an effort to strengthen the voting power of [Congressional District] 23’s Anglo citizens. In other words, they sought to reduce Hispanic voters’ ability to elect without making it look like anything in [Congressional District] 23 had changed.”
In 2010, the 23rd district narrowly elected a Latino Republican, Francisco “Quico” Canseco. One email to a Republican mapdrawer, released during the legal battle over the maps, shows that Republicans were trying to increase the chances Canseco would be re-elected.
Lawmakers used a similar tactic in redrawing a state house district, modifying it “so that it would elect the Anglo-preferred candidate yet would look like a Hispanic ability district on paper,” the court ruled. An “ability district” is one in which a minority group has the capability to elect representatives of its choosing. The judges concluded that the legislature had been trying to make this district appear as if it satisfied the requirements of the Voting Rights Act, while actually trying to benefit white voters.
Judge Thomas B. Griffith, writing the unanimous opinion of the three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, called it “a deliberate, race-conscious method to manipulate not simply the Democratic vote but, more specifically, the Hispanic vote.”
2. Lawmakers widened the gap between the proportion of the population that is Latino and African Americans and the proportion of districts that are minority-controlled.
In the years leading up to the 2010 census, Texas’ population increased by 4.3 million people, 65 percent of them Latino. As a result, Texas gained four seats in Congress.
In their decision, the federal judges in the redistricting case noted that minority voters have no constitutional right to proportional representation. But the Voting Rights Act says states can’t weaken the electoral power of minorities. So, the judges reasoned, if there is already a gap between the minority population of a state and its political representation, states can’t let that gap grow wider.
In Texas, the judges observed, African Americans and Latinos were already underrepresented in Congress. Given the number of voting-age minority citizens in the state, Texas’s old maps should have had roughly 13 congressional seats that represent districts in which minorities have a strong voice, the judges calculated. Instead, Texas only had 10 such districts.
Instead of narrowing this “representation gap” as the minority population grew, the legislature increased it.
With four additional congressional seats, Texas should now have 14 districts in which minorities have the ability to elect their chosen representatives, the judges concluded. But the state’s new plan still included just 10 minority districts.
3. Texas removed economic centers and district offices from African-American and Latino districts, while giving white Republicans perks.