The Department of Justice is suing the state of Texas over its 2021 redistricting plans, which were approved by Gov. Greg Abbott (R) in October.
Attorney General Merrick Garland and Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta announced the lawsuit during a press conference Monday. The complaint, filed Monday in U.S. district court in the Western district of Texas, alleges that both the new congressional map and the new state House map out of Texas are discriminatory.
“The newly-enacted redistrictng plans will not allow minority voters an equal opportunity to elect representatives of their choice,” Gupta said at the press conference.
The suit, like other lawsuits over the maps in recent months, began by pointing out that 95% of Texas’ population growth over the past decade came from Latinos, African Americans and other minority groups.
Texas gained two new U.S. congressional seats from that population growth — and yet “Texas designed the two new seats to have Anglo voting majorities,” the DOJ suit says.
The Justice Department listed several opportunities the Texas legislature could have taken — but didn’t — to draw congressional and state House districts that would have reflected the state’s growing Hispanic population.
Among other things, according to the suit, the legislature “surgically excised minority communities from the core of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex (DFW) by attaching them to heavily Anglo rural counties, some more than a hundred miles away, placing them in a congressional district where they would lack equal electoral opportunity.”
At the state House level, the suit alleged, “Texas also eliminated Latino electoral opportunities in the State House plan through manipulation or outright elimination of districts where Latino communities previously had elected their preferred candidates.”
The suit also targeted the “extraordinarily rapid and opaque legislative process” that the legislature used to draw and approve the maps.
Until 2013, when the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act (VRA), courts have found that Texas’ proposed redistricting maps violated the Constitution or the VRA in every decade since 1970, the suit noted. Now, without that law’s “preclearance” regime in effect, the state was able to enact its proposed redistricting maps without the federal government’s approval first.
“With that preclearance tool still in place, we would likely not be here today announcing this complaint,” Garland said, urging Congress to restore the DOJ’s preclearance authority.
The federal government asked the court to find that Texas’ 2021 congressional and state House maps violated Section 2 of the VRA, which prohibits abridging the right to vote on account of race, color or membership in a language minority group. It also asked the court to establish interim districts as the state redraws the maps.
Lightning Bolts and Seahorses
The suit included several specific examples of districts that the Texas legislature had allegedly purposefully gerrymandered in order to dilute the votes of Black and Hispanic Texans.
Take Congressional District 23, which covers vast swathes of west Texas, including parts of Bexar County and El Paso County, from which it draws the majority of its population.
The redrawn district lowers not only the Latino “CVAP” of the district — the Latino citizen voting age population — but also two of Texas’ own metrics: SSVR, or “Spanish Surname Voter Registration,” and SSTO, “Spanish Surname Turnout.”
This has happened before: In 2012, a three-judge panel found that the 2011 map of the district took away Latino voters’ ability to elect their preferred candidates.
The Justice Department alleged Monday that, “As in 2011, the enacted Congressional plan deliberately makes District 23 more Anglo and more Republican, thereby eliminating the opportunity for minority voters to elect their preferred candidates.”
But it’s not just numbers, it’s also turnout: The DOJ alleged that the Texas legislature made the district less representative by “consciously replacing” many active Latino voters in the district with low-turnout Latino citizens.
“Although the enacted 2021 Congressional plan reduces District 23’s Latino CVAP by 9.3%, the plan reduces District 23’s SSTO by 10.3%,” the suit noted. “The average SSTO for the precincts that Texas removed from District 23 is 59.9%, while the average SSTO for the precincts that the State added to the district is 33.8%.”
One legislator even pointed out this turnout data to his colleagues during the redistricting process, the suit noted — to no avail. The suit goes district-by-district with this type of detailed analysis, splicing demographic and participation data to show the alleged intent of legislators.
The suit also notes the bizarre shapes of some of the gerrymandered districts: several districts around the Dallas-Fort Worth area resemble “lightning bolts” that courts have previously said were evidence of legislators’ racially discriminatory motives, the suit noted.
And Congressional District 6 looks like a “seahorse” that connects a largely rural, white, conservative area with several diverse neighborhoods in Dallas County, the suit said.
The Wall Street Journal covered this district ahead of Abbott’s approval of the maps in October: 150 miles across, at one point the district narrows to just 28 houses wide, the paper reported. (edited)
‘Disregard For Massive Minority Population Growth’
Though the bulk of the suit focused on the allegedly discriminatory maps themselves, the Justice Department also focused on the process by which the maps were created, an important aspect of establishing the legislature’s intent.
It described how the Texas legislature allegedly rushed through an opaque process, resulting in an intentionally discriminatory set of maps.
“Once the special session began, redistricting plans and amendments moved at a rapid pace with little transparency and limited opportunities for witness testimony,” the suit alleged.
“Minority legislators frequently decried the compressed timeline, changes made
without traditional deference to local delegations, the inability to invite expert testimony, the minimal opportunities for public input, and an overall disregard for massive minority population growth in Texas over the last decade.”
Among other issues, the initial proposal for the congressional map was drawn based in part on the direction of Texas’ Republican members of Congress, allegedly leaving only one Latino member of the delegation, and no Black members, the opportunity to provide input.
The software used to draft the maps also allegedly didn’t account for legislators’ homes, resulting in a map pairing two Black legislators in the same district. And the rapid pace with which the maps moved through the legislature left little chance for analysis and comment periods, the suit said.
On the occasions that minority legislators introduced plans with the goal of creating opportunities for minority groups’ representation, the legislature declined to adopt the proposals, the suit said.
After one proposed Latino-majority district in Harris County was shot down, state Sen. Joan Huffman (R), chair of the chamber’s redistricting committee, said that after a discussion with the attorney general’s office, “we saw no strong basis in evidence that a new minority opportunity district should be drawn in the new maps,” the suit noted.
On the state House side, redistricting committee chair Rep. Todd Hunter (R) said repeatedly during that committee’s sole hearing on the state House plans that the committee should rely on the overall “minority voting age population” — rather than the “citizen voting age population.” The former category includes Texas residents who are not citizens, and thus are not eligible to vote. The suit noted that Hunter’s method “ignored decades of Voting Rights Act precedent.”
At the same meeting, he acknowledged for the first time what the Texas Tribune had first reported a few days earlier: That he had hired a Wisconsin-based operative named Adam Foltz to draw maps. Hunter paid Foltz through the Texas Legislative Council, rather than the through the redistricting committee he led. “This effectively hid Foltz’s role from other members of the Redistricting Committee,” the suit alleged.
The suit noted one telling quote from Adam Kincaid, the executive director of the National Republican Redistricting Trust, after Abbott approved maps that protected incumbent congressional Republicans and added two conservative districts.
“The competitive Republican seats are off the board,” Kincaid said.
Read the lawsuit below:
This post has been updated.