Three New District Maps in Texas Hurt Minorities

     (CN) – New district lines in Texas trample minority voter rights, a panel of federal judges in Washington ruled, continuing the state’s four-decade losing streak in redistricting litigation.
     The three scrapped maps include redistricting plans for the state Senate, the state House of Representatives and the U.S. House of Representatives.
     Texas drew the maps to address a population increase of more than 4 million people since 2000. The state gained four seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.
     To comply with Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), the state needed preclearance from either the U.S. attorney general or a three-judge panel from the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia before proceeding with its maps.
     Texas opted to seek a declaratory judgment in court, but a three-judge panel denied preclearance for all three maps on Tuesday.
     The 154-page ruling focused on both the effect and the purpose of the maps, which the U.S. government and seven intervenors claimed would dilute minority votes.
     Texas used an analysis of the minority voting-age population to conclude that its maps met the VRA requirements.
     The panel rejected Texas’ use of a single factor to confirm compliance.
     “We agree that section 5 does not interfere with many of the policy judgments a state must make during redistricting, such as whether to retain an ability district – a district in which minority citizens have the ability to elect their preferred candidates – or create a new one elsewhere,” U.S. District Judge Thomas Griffith wrote for the panel. “Yet Texas takes this point too far, claiming that the prerogative to choose among methods of redistricting extends to the type of evidence we should use to measure retrogression.”
     Griffith split from his colleagues on the panel who found that it was retrogressive for Texas to eliminate U.S. Congressional District 25, which encompasses part of the city of Austin and several neighboring counties.
     Though it found a lack of direct evidence to indicate discrimination, the panel rejected the state’s suggestion that minority districts lost their district offices and economic centers in the new U.S. congressional map by chance.
     “The only explanation Texas offers for this pattern is ‘coincidence,'” Griffith wrote. “But if this was coincidence, it was a striking one indeed. It is difficult to believe that pure chance would lead to such results. The state also argues that it ‘attempted to accommodate unsolicited requests from a bipartisan group of lawmakers,’ and that ‘[w]ithout hearing from the members, the mapdrawers did not know where district offices were located.’ … But we find this hard to believe as well. We are confident that the mapdrawers can not only draw maps but read them, and the locations of these district offices were not secret.”
     The panel referred to “clear on-the-ground evidence of ‘cracking’ minority communities of interest” in its determination that the state Senate map was wrought with discriminatory intent.
     One piece of evidence that fuels this finding is an email sent to Doug Davis, the state Senate’s principal mapdrawer and staff director of the Senate Redistricting Committee, and his wife Katrina Davis, the Senate parliamentarian.
     David Hanna, a lawyer with the nonpartisan Texas Legislative Council, allegedly wrote the email, which addresses “precook[ing]” a Senate Redistricting Committee report on the consideration of amendments to the proposed state Senate map.
     Hanna’s email said: “No bueno. RedAppl [the redistricting software Texas used] time stamps everything when it assigns a plan. Doing [the committee report on] Thursday [May 12] would create [a] paper trail that some amendments were not going to be considered at all. Don’t think this is a good idea for preclearance. Best approach is to do it afterwards and we’ll go as fast as possible.” (Brackets in original.)
     The “email indicates, at a minimum, that redistricting committee staff feared their actions might create the appearance of impropriety under section 5,” according to the ruling.
     A dozen state senators also joined a statement voicing concerns that “the fact they were shut out from the map-drawing process until just forty-eight hours before the map was introduced in the Senate showed that the Senate plan had a ‘racially discriminatory purpose,'” according to the court.
     As for the state House of Representatives map, the panel determined that it would have a retrogressive effect.
     The Supreme Court threw out the first set of interim maps approved in the Western District of Texas where the redistricting plans are also being contested. However, a new set of interim maps remains unchallenged.
     U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell penned the second opinion, which U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer joined. Collyer joined all of Griffith’s opinion except for a section on retrogression with new congressional seats.

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