SAN ANTONIO (CN) – A three-judge panel of federal judges concluded Thursday that the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature intentionally gerrymandered district maps in 2011 to disadvantage minority voters – the second such ruling against the maps in a month.
In a 2-1 ruling, U.S. District Judges Orlando L. Garcia and Xavier Rodriguez concluded there was “invidious discriminatory purpose” under Plan H283 in several districts throughout the state.
They said minority voters in 12 districts were improperly diluted, in Dallas, Tarrant, Harris, Bexar, El Paso, Nueces and Bell counties. Nine districts were drawn with uneven populations in violation of the one-person-one-vote rule in Nueces, Hidalgo, Lampasas and Bell counties.
“Despite the massive minority population growth, Plan H283 not only failed to create any new minority opportunity district, it reduced the number of minority opportunity districts by eliminating [House District] 33 in Nueces County,” the 153-page majority opinion states.
“Redistricters also intentionally disadvantaged Hispanic voters in Hispanic districts that had elected Republicans in 2010 who were not Latino candidates of choice; they used race impermissibly and intentionally diluted Latino voting strength in HD78 [in El Paso], HD117 [in Austin], and HD41 [in McAllen] to protect Republican incumbents who were not Latino candidates of choice. The impact of the plan was certainly to reduce minority voting opportunity statewide, resulting in even less proportional representation for minority voters.”
The majority said map-drawers’ “true motive” was to dilute Latino voting strength in west Dallas County by “unnecessarily” moving Latinos to House Districts 103 and 104 while making House District 105 more white to protect the white Republican incumbent. The majority says this “wasting” of Latino voters violates the 14th Amendment.
The majority also found “undisputed evidence” of racial gerrymandering in House District 90 in neighboring Tarrant County.
“There is little indication that they cared about traditional redistricting factors or maintaining communities of interest; they were only concerned with raising the [Spanish Surname Voter Registration] to 50.1 percent,” the majority opinion said. “The district became the most underpopulated district in the plan. The African-American community of Como was removed from HD90 and placed into a Republican district represented by Anglo Rep.[Charlie] Geren.”
Democrats quickly cheered the ruling. Texas Democratic Party chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said Republicans gave Texas “a deep moral wound” and that “irreparable damage” has been done.
“They haven’t just been cheating to gain an edge in the political game,” he said in a statement. “They have been deliberately holding back Texans from having a voice in their own government – a voice that affects every aspect of our lives.”
State Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, said the case is another example of the state’s political discrimination against minority voters. Anchia chairs the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, a plaintiff in the case.
“In nearly every instance since the 1970s Supreme Court decision in White v. Regester, the Texas Legislature has drawn electoral maps in violation of the constitutional protections against discrimination and the Voting Rights Act,” he said.
The same three-judge panel voided three gerrymandered districts in a similar ruling last month. In a 2-1 ruling on March 10, Rodriguez and Garcia ruled the 2011 maps showed “not just a hostility toward Democrat districts, but a hostility to minority districts, and a willingness to use race for partisan advantage” in the redrawn maps.
In that case, the majority voided District 23, which stretches from San Antonio in central Texas to El Paso in the west; District 35, which runs in a narrow swath from San Antonio to Austin; and District 27, which runs from Lockhart, 33 miles south of Austin, to the Gulf of Mexico.
As he did in the panel’s ruling last month, Fifth Circuit Judge Jerry Smith authored a blistering dissent Thursday. He said the panel lacks jurisdiction over the maps.
“I will show how the majority is wrong on the law,” his 15-page dissenting opinion said. “And I will demonstrate what the majority’s factual findings are so extreme as to defy logic and reason under this record.”
Smith accused the majority of engaging in a “well-meaning and unintended misreading” of applicable law.
“To be fair, there is some residual uncertainty from the Supreme Court’s redistricting pronouncements over the past decades,” Smith wrote. “One thing we can be sure of, however, is that as of March 2017, these plaintiffs must show that the Legislature employed ‘race for its own sake.’ The law forbids ‘the racial purpose of state action, not its stark manifestation.’ ‘Race for its own sake’ must by the ‘overriding reason for choosing one map over others.’”
Smith said the majority’s reasoning defies logic because there is only evidence of Republican lawmakers taking action to advance their majority, not race.
“The stated objective was partisan power, but the real and secret goal was subjugation of minorities,” he wrote. “It is indeed possible to imagine a world – maybe the Deep South in the 1920s – in which the main guidance for legislative action was racial hatred or prejudice. But to their credit, these private plaintiffs make no such claim, nor do my distinguished colleagues in the majority believe it. This is not ‘race for the sake of race.’”
Attorney General Ken Paxton said “we respectfully disagree” with the ruling.
“As Fifth Circuit Judge Jerry Smith observed in his dissent, the challenge to the old 2011 maps are not only moot but ‘a finding that racial considerations were dominant and controlling defies everything about this record,’” Paxton said Thursday evening. “Accordingly, we are confident we will ultimately prevail in this case.”