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Monday, December 11, 2023 | Back issues
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Feds take Texas to court over GOP-drawn voting maps

Justice Department officials argue the state’s new congressional and legislative maps were drawn with discriminatory intent and will dilute the voting power of nonwhites.

EL PASO, Texas (CN) — The Department of Justice claims in a federal lawsuit filed against Texas that the Lone Star State violated the Voting Rights Act by drawing political maps that decrease the voting power of minorities.  

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a press conference Monday that the state’s recently redrawn maps “abridge Black and Latino voters’ opportunity to vote on account of their race, color or language minority status.”

Filed in El Paso federal court against Texas and its Secretary of State John Scott, the DOJ’s lawsuit argues that the GOP-controlled Texas Legislature diluted the voting strength of Black and Latino voters despite those groups driving population growth in the state over the past decade.

For example, the complaint notes that the two new congressional districts Texas gained in the 2020 census were drawn to favor whites, despite nonwhites making up the majority of growth. 

Texas House Democratic Caucus Chair Chris Turner of Grand Prairie applauded the lawsuit in a statement.

"As House Democrats argued... Texas’ population growth — 95% of which was in communities of color — demands that the Legislature draw maps that give Black, Hispanic and Asian-American voters more, not fewer, opportunities to elect the candidates of their choice," Turner said.

Citing Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Garland said Monday the newly drawn state voting maps cannot be used since they discriminate against Black and Latino voters.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton fired back in a post to Twitter that said the DOJ’s lawsuit is absurd.

“I am confident that our legislature's redistricting decisions will be proven lawful, and this preposterous attempt to sway democracy will fail,” the Republican official wrote.

Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta said the disentrancement of voters of color through the new maps was intentional.

“Texas’ 2021 redistricting plans were enacted through a rushed process with minimal opportunity for public comment, without any expert testimony and with an overall disregard for the massive minority population growth in Texas over the last decade,” she said at Monday’s press conference.  

The Justice Department wants a federal judge to declare the maps discriminatory and enjoin the state’s enforcement of them. In their place, the Biden administration requests that the court provide interim maps until the Legislature draws new maps that comply with the Voting Rights Act.

This is not the first time Texas has been accused of drawing political maps that dilute the voting strength of minorities. The DOJ lawsuit states that in every redistricting cycle since 1970, Texas has been found to have violated the U.S. Constitution or the Voting Rights Act through one or more of its redistricting plans. 

However, this redistricting cycle is unlike the previous five because of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder, which eliminated Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. That provision required states like Texas with a history of racial discrimination at the polls to obtain preclearance from the Department of Justice before enacting changes to voting practices and procedures.

Garland said Section 5 was the Justice Department’s “best tool for protecting voting rights.” Despite it being struck down, he has vowed to use the department’s authority to defend the right to vote. 

“I want to again urge Congress to restore the Justice Department’s preclearance authority,” Garland said Monday. “Were that preclearance tool still in place, we would likely not be here today announcing this complaint.”

Latino rights groups across the state have also filed suit over Texas’ new voting maps. In a lawsuit filed in October, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund argued the maps violate the 14th Amendment and the Voting Rights Act by reducing the voting strength of Latinos.

Last month, the Department of Justice sued Texas over its controversial new voting law restricting how election workers may assist voters who do not speak English or have a disability.

In that case, the Biden administration alleges that Senate Bill 1 violates the Voting Rights Act by not allowing voters who are unable to read or write to receive the assistance they are guaranteed. The law took effect last week, with the complaint against it pending in San Antonio federal court.

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Categories / Civil Rights, Government, Politics, Regional

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