Civil rights groups are worried that Republicans running redistricting in Texas are breaking the federal Voting Rights Act by diluting Hispanic voting strength. So too, apparently, were the Republicans themselves.
Emails recently released by a federal judge in the course of a lawsuit over the redistricting map drawn by Texas Republicans show those involved in the redistricting process were worried that DOJ or a federal court wouldn’t approve their plan. As they worked on the plan in the spring and early summer, at least one GOPer expressed concerns that the feds would say they didn’t do enough to strengthen the voting power of Hispanic residents of the state even though the population of Hispanic residents ballooned over 90 percent between the 2000 and 2010 censuses.
The judge unsealed the emails over the objection of members of Congress, who argued that revealing the content of the emails would violate their right as members of Congress to free speech and debate.
Many of the emails are to and from Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), in regard to moving Hispanic voters into one district to make it harder for a Democratic congressman to win his district. In one email, a lawyer for Smith relates that the congressman wanted to move a neighborhood around the San Antonio Country Club from out of the Hispanic district and into his to reduce the number of white voters in the Democratic district.
Instead of going with the much cheaper option of having the Justice Department pre-clear their redistricting plan, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott opted for the more costly route by asking a federal court to do so. Later, he challenged the Constitutionality of section five of the Voting Rights Act, arguing that it infringed on the rights of the states.
Circumventing DOJ was Smith’s preferred option early on in the process. In an April 3 email to the chief of staff for the speaker of the Texas House, Smith wrote that they “agree that we are not going to seek (Justice Department) preclearance but will go to a three-judge panel in D.C.”
One longtime Republican staffer didn’t think that was such a great idea. Dub Maines, a staffer for Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) wrote in an email on June 9 that the “idea of challenging the Constitutionality of Section 5 is high-risk poker with no discernible positive return.” He thought that the redistricting map “has next to no chance of pre-clearance” – either by the Justice Department or the D.C. circuit court.
“The map I’ve sent you has a very high probability of pre-clearing – at least in the DC court,” Maines wrote. “This is the analysis of those who have practiced in the Voting Rights area – very successfully – for over 25 years. I would encourage you to speak with them about the Committee-passed map. They may be from evil DC, but they ARE the premier experts in this area, and I believe it would be prudent to entertain their thoughts on this map!”
As the Houston Chronicle reports, just four hours after Maines wrote that email, Smith messaged Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX) to ask him to call Barton in an effort to stop Maines. “Dub Mains (sic) sending emails criticizing [congressional district] 20. May be used against us in court.”
Links to all of the disclosed emails are available here.