SAN ANTONIO (CN) – A three-member panel of federal judges ruled unanimously Thursday that parts of the Texas House of Representatives map intentionally discriminate against minority groups and must be redrawn before the 2018 elections.
The three-judge panel in San Antonio federal court, led by U.S. District Judges Xavier Rodriguez, found that Texas lawmakers “purposefully maintained … intentional discrimination” to disadvantage minority voters when it adopted a gerrymandered district map in 2013.
The judges ruled that nine house districts must be redrawn.
In the 83-page ruling, the district court gave Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton three business days to advise whether Gov. Greg Abbott intends to take up redistricting efforts in a special legislative session, but Paxton said Thursday that the state would appeal the court’s ruling.
Paxton said the map the Legislature adopted in 2013 was largely based off a map that the court had drawn in 2012, to address discrimination claims made about a map adopted by the state in 2011.
“The judges held that maps they themselves adopted violate the law,” Paxton said. “Needless to say, we will appeal.”
If the Legislature does not intend to take up redistricting, the court said it will hold a hearing Sept. 6 to consider remedial plans to address the violations.
Thomas Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which is representing the plaintiffs in the case, called the ruling a “most welcome development.”
“The state of Texas needs to move on with fixing permanently the rights violations in which it has regularly – as confirmed by this court’s recent rulings – and continually engaged,” Saenz said in a statement Thursday. “The people of Texas need to have confidence that the electoral system in which more and more will participate is untainted by intentional discrimination or discriminatory effects.”
“With the 2018 election cycle fast approaching, it’s time for Texas to stop discriminating against Latino voters and agree to a remedy that will provide equal opportunity to all,” added Nina Perales, vice president of litigation for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
Thursday’s ruling came nine days after the same court ordered the state to redraw two congressional districts. The court decided that the congressional map, like the state House map, had also been adopted with the intent to discriminate against minority voters.
The disputed districts are CD 27, which stretches from the Central Texas town of Lockhart to the coastal communities along the Gulf of Mexico, and CD 35, which runs from Austin to San Antonio in a narrow swath along Interstate Highway 35.
Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi, represents CD 27, while CD 35 is represented by Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin.
On Friday, Paxton asked the U.S. Supreme Court to stay the lower court’s ruling regarding the congressional districts.
“The maps are lawful and constitutional, and a stay is vital to avoiding unnecessary election confusion while the Supreme Court reviews this case,” Paxton said in a statement Friday.
He said it was “astonishing” that the lower court again “ignored that the maps are the very same ones that the court itself adopted in 2012,” and pointed out that the Department of Justice under former President Barack Obama’s administration did not bring any claims against the maps.
“We are confident that the Supreme Court will allow Texas to continue to use the maps used in the last three election cycles,” Paxton said.