Friday, September 23, 2011

DOJ: Texas Congressional Redistricting Map Violates Voting Rights Act

Updated Friday, September 23, 2011 @ 6:41 PM

The U.S. Department Justice (USDOJ) said late today (Friday Sept. 23, 2011) that based on their preliminary investigation, a congressional redistricting map signed into law by Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry appears to have been "adopted, at least in part, for the purpose of diminishing the ability of citizens of the United States, on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority group, to elect their preferred candidates of choice to Congress."

USDOJ's Civil Rights Division specifically challenges the redistricting maps for Texas congressional Districts 23 and 27, which they say would not provide Hispanic citizens with the ability to elect candidates of their choice to the U.S. House of Representatives.

Civil Rights Division lawyers say they need more information on the congressional plan to determine what the purpose of the redistricting plan was for sure. But the federal agency came out stronger against the state House of Representatives plan, which they flat out said "violates Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act in that it was adopted, at least in part, for the purpose of diminishing the ability of citizens of the United States, on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority group, to elect their preferred candidates of choice to the Texas House of Representatives."

USDOJ said that no matter the purpose of the congressional plan, it would have a discriminatory effect on voters.

"When compared to the existing plan, the proposed Congressional plan will have a retrogressive effect in that it will diminish the ability of citizens of the United States, on account of race, color or membership in a language minority group, to elect their preferred candidates of choice to the United States House of Representatives," USDOJ said in its latest filing. (see the Sept. 23, 2011 USDOJ filing at the end of this post.)

Original Post Monday, September 19, 2011 @ 2:38 PM

The U.S. Department of Justice said today that Texas' state House and Congressional redistricting plans do not comply with Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), indicating they thought the maps approved by Gov. Rick Perry (R) gave too little voting power to the growing Latino population in the state.

Officials with DOJ's Civil Rights Division said the proposed redistricting maps for Texas' State Board of Education (SBOE) and the state Senate do comply with the Voting Rights Act.

A special three-judge panel in Washington, D.C. will ultimately decide whether the redistricting plan for the state violates the VRA. That's because the state of Texas chose to ask the court for approval of its redistricting plan and skip the cheaper U.S. Department of Justice (USDOJ) pre-clearance process, which would have put the decision in the hands of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division. The court hearing is set for Wednesday. [Court filing PDF]

The DOJ's position on the SBOE and state Senate redistricting plan still doesn't grant Texas pre-clearance because the state chose to go through the court rather than the USDOJ; it merely lays out the Justice Department's position in the ongoing court litigation.

Regardless of DOJ's position, the court can still potentially find that the SBOE and state Senate maps aren't in compliance with the VRA or that state House and Congressional redistricting plans do comply with the VRA.

Samuel Bagenstos, a University of Michigan Law School professor who was the number two official in the USDOJ's Civil Rights Division until August, told Roll Call this could be the start of a long process, including discovery and questioning under oath. "Once a state decides to go to court, it loses control over the schedule," Bagenstos added. "The rules of federal litigation kicks in."

The problem is, under the newly revised Texas election calendar candidates can file for office from November 12 through December 12th. The Republican and Democratic primary elections, currently scheduled for March 6, 2012, and county conventions later in March are tied to the 11/12 through 12/12 filing period.

The special three-judge court panel must conclude its review and, depending on the court's findings, new state House and Congressional redistricting maps must be drawn by early November, or the Texas legislature might have to move the filing and primary election timetable back.

The 2010 decennial census found that Texas is a minority-majority state for the first time in a redistricting period. The census count for Texas totaled 25,145,56 for a 20.6% increase over the number of people living in the state in 2000, courtesy of the burgeoning Texas Hispanic and African-American populations. Almost 90 percent of the state's growth was from minorities.

Anglos now account for just 45 percent of the state's population, down from 52 percent a decade ago. The Hispanic population is now 38 percent of the total population—growing by 42 percent—while the African-American population grew slightly and is now 12 percent of the total population. The voting age population is a little different: 49.6 percent Anglo, 33.6 percent Hispanic, 11.4 percent black and 3.9 percent Asian.
A fair redrawing of new district lines must allow minority groups, who accounted for 90% of the population increase, the opportunity to share in the four additional U.S. House seats Texas earned by Texas' overall population increase.

Civil rights groups have taken issue with Texas' 2011 redistricting plans, signed into law by Gov. Rick Perry, because the redistricting plan doesn't provide any additional Hispanic or "opportunity" districts.

Texas’ Hispanic population accounted for most of the five million person growth in total population since 2000, but the civil rights groups charge that no new Hispanic-majority districts exist under the new redistricting maps. The plan approved by the Republican legislature does not contain a single majority Hispanic district in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, despite the fact that the area has one of the largest Latino populations in the nation.

Republicans under former Rep. Tom DeLay re-redistricted the state in 2003, gerrymandering and tearing apart districts held by Democrats to create new districts favoring non-minority Republicans. The plan was a big success for Republicans: The U.S. House delegation from Texas went from 17-15 Democrat earlier in the decade to 21-11 Republican in 2004. Republicans now hold 23 of the 32 House seats after picking up three districts in the 2010 election.

Republicans performed relatively well among Texas Hispanics in the 2010 elections. Gov. Rick Perry took 38 percent of the Hispanic vote last year, better than other Republicans in recent years, and the GOP picked up two majority-Hispanic House seats.

While whites made up about 45 percent of the population in 2010, they accounted for about 68 percent of the turnout; Hispanics, with 38 percent of the population, accounted for only about 20 percent of the vote.

Now that the still growing Hispanic population makes up 38 percent of Texas residents Republicans must increasingly compete for the Hispanic vote in the future to win statewide as well as local elections. The Hispanic population is very young and trends progressive, and as more Latinos turn 18, become citizens, and register to vote, Texas could become a swing state sooner rather than later, if Republicans do not make strong inroads with the Hispanic electorate.

Read the Justice Department's court filing in the Texas redistricting case here.

The Justice Department is separately deciding whether a voter ID law signed by Perry violates the Voting Rights Act.

Redistricing plans enacted or passed by the 82nd Legislature, 2011:
  • PlanC185 — Texas Congressional Districts
  • PlanS148 — Texas Senate Districts
  • PlanH283 — Texas House of Representatives Districts
  • PlanE120 — Texas State Board of Education Districts
Current and proposed districts can be viewed using the Internet application DistrictViewer.

DOJ Court Filing
Texas v. USA - Sept. 23 2011

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