Justice Department sues Texas over GOP-approved redistricting maps

Officials say Republican lawmakers ‘deliberately dilute the voting strength of Latino and Black voters’

Alex Woodward
New York
Monday 06 December 2021 19:54
Justice Department sues Texas over GOP-led redistricting
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The US Department of Justice sued the state of Texas for recently drawn political boundaries approved by the state’s Republican lawmakers and signed into law by Republican Governor Greg Abbott.

US Attorney General Merrick Garland said the new redistricting maps “deny Black and Latino voters an equal opportunity to participate in the voting process and elect representatives of their choice in violation of the Voting Rights Act.”

The action on 6 December marks the second time that the Justice Department under Joe Biden’s administration has sued the state over voting rights violations.

The latest lawsuit follows other legal challenges from civil rights groups and Latino voters who have also argued that the maps dilute the electoral power of Latino and Black voters and disregard the state’s population growth.

Results of the 2020 US Census revealed a surge in population growth among people of colour in the state. The number of Latino residents grew by nearly 2 million over the last decade, and nearly all of the population gains fell within three major metropolitan areas – among some of the largest in the country.

That growth means the state will gain two more seats in the US Congress, as well as four seats in the state House.

Texas “failed to draw a seat encompassing the growing Latino electorate in Harris County” and “excised minority communities from the core of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex,” according to the lawsuit filed in US District Court.

“Texas also eliminated Latino electoral opportunities in the [state’s House of Representatives] plan through manipulation or outright elimination of districts where Latino communities previously had elected their preferred candidates,” it alleges.

US Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta said several districts were “drawn with discriminatory intent,” noting that the two newly created districts for congressional seats will have white voting majorities.

The state has shown “decade after decade” its attempts to “deliberately dilute the voting strength of Latino and Black voters,” she said during a press conference on Monday.

The Justice Department has also sued the state of Georgia over its restrictive voting laws.

“The attorney general has made clear that the Justice Department will not stand idly by unlawful attempts to restrict access to the ballot,” Ms Gupta added.

States are rolling out their once-a-decade redistricting plans to redraw the lines of political representation amid rapidly changing demographics and the GOP’s ongoing attempts to make voting more difficult while undermining the results of election outcomes.

But for the first time in decades, states are also redrawing those maps without federal oversight, after the US Supreme Court in 2013 tossed out a crucial element of the Voting Rights Act that requires jurisdictions with histories of discrimination – like Texas – to have federal “preclearance” before proposed rule changes can go into effect.

Without those safeguards, political boundaries in Texas were redrawn without minimal guardrails against racial discrimination or partisan abuse in one of the fastest-growing states in the country.

Attorney General Garland repeated his call to Congress to restore the preclearance requirement of the Voting Rights Act, which Justice Department officials and voting rights advocates have demanded lawmakers support. He said “we would not be here” if that preclearance requirement has not been tossed out.

Senate Republicans have repeatedly blocked attempts to introduce congressional action on voting rights.

Last month, for the first time since its passage nearly 60 years ago, the US Senate failed to restore the Voting Rights Act, to be named in honour of the late civil rights leader and congressman John Lewis, after GOP lawmakers invoked a filibuster for the fourth time this year to stop the legislation from advancing to the floor.

It marks the first time that the Voting Rights Act has not passed the Senate with bipartisan support.

GOP Senators have twice blocked passage of the For The People Act and a trimmed-down “compromise” version of the bill, the Freedom to Vote Act.

A growing body of lawmakers and civil rights advocates have urged Democratic senators to dismantle procedural rules that threaten to undermine the right to vote, and have protested outside the White House demanding President Joe Biden push his party to do more. Senate Democrats need the support of at least 10 Republicans to reach a 60-vote threshold to break the filibuster.

Democrats have pitched their voting rights legislation as an antidote to a nationwide campaign among GOP state lawmakers to make it more difficult to vote while also stripping election oversight from elections officials and giving it to Republican-dominated state legislatures, after Donald Trump and his allies failed to subvert the results of the 2020 presidential election propelled by his persistent lie that the election was “rigged” against him.

Following a flood of dozens of bills in nearly every state house, at least 19 states enacted 33 restrictive voting laws this year, according to an analysis from the Brennan Center for Justice. GOP lawmakers are also prefiling more restrictive voting bills ahead of 2022 legislative sessions.

A parallel effort from GOP lawmakers saw the passage of at least 24 laws that give themselves more authority over the electoral process.

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