Exploding Latino Population Excluded From Texas GOP’s New Congressional Maps, Suit Says

AUSTIN, TX -  FEBRUARY  19:  Early voting began today across Texas ahead of the presidential primaries taking place on Tuesday, March 4, 2008. (Photo by Ben Sklar/Getty Images)
AUSTIN, TX - FEBRUARY 19: Voters wait outside a polling place held in a trailer at a grocery store parking lot February 19, 2008 in Austin, Texas. Early voting began today across Texas ahead of the state's primary... AUSTIN, TX - FEBRUARY 19: Voters wait outside a polling place held in a trailer at a grocery store parking lot February 19, 2008 in Austin, Texas. Early voting began today across Texas ahead of the state's primary March 4. (Photo by Ben Sklar/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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October 19, 2021 1:15 p.m.

People of color made up the vast majority of Texas’ decade-long growth spurt, especially Latinos, a group that accounted for fully half of the state’s growth.

But Republicans control the state’s legislature. And the new political maps they’ve approved in recent days as part of the redistricting process dilute Latinos’ voting power, according to the first lawsuit over the maps.

The suit, filed Monday in federal court in the Western District of Texas, marks what’s likely to be a fierce struggle over political representation in the increasingly diverse state.

People of color made up 95% of Texas’s population growth since 2010. Of the state’s roughly 4 million new residents over the past decade, 1,980,796 were Hispanic, 613,092 were Asian, 557,887 were Black — and just 187,252 were white, the Texas Tribune noted.

That diverse growth is not being represented in newly-drawn political maps, several Latino civil and voting rights groups suing the state say. Rather, Texas Republicans drew up state House, state Senate, state Board of Education and U.S. congressional maps that preserved their power by “packing” certain districts with Latinos but keeping them out of the majority in new districts.

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“Plaintiffs seek a declaratory judgment that the redistricting plans for the Texas House (Plan H2316), Senate (Plan S2168), SBOE (Plan E2106) and Congress (C2193) violate their civil rights because the plans unlawfully dilute the voting strength of Latinos,” the suit read. “Plaintiffs further seek a declaratory judgment that the challenged redistricting plans intentionally discriminate against them on the basis of race and national origin.”

The complaint was written by lawyers from the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, or MALDEF. The suit’s defendants, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) and Deputy Secretary of State Jose A. Esparza, have not responded in court to the complaint, but Republicans lawmakers have said they followed the law with the new districts. 

At the time the suit was filed Monday, the legislature had approved redistricting plans for the state House and Senate, and was finalizing a plan for U.S. Congress. 

By Tuesday, both legislative chambers had approved a final congressional map as well.  

Texas’s large population growth meant it was the only state in the country to gain two congressional seats. But despite the state’s white population actually shrinking as a percentage of total residents, the newly drawn and approved districts gave white voters “effective control” of both new districts, the Tribune reported

Currently, Latino voting-age residents make up the majority of eight congressional districts. Under the new maps — despite massive growth of Texas’ Latino population in recent years — that number would be down to seven.

The Wall Street Journal described one proposed district, the Sixth Congressional District, in a story Monday: It runs 150 miles, from rural counties into diverse suburbs, at one point narrowing to only 28 houses wide.

“The significant growth of the Latino population in Texas since 2010 allowed Texas to gain one, if not both, of its two new congressional districts,” the suit alleged. “Despite the growth of the Latino population over the past decade, Plan C2193 dilutes Latino voting strength by failing to create any additional Latino CVAP majority congressional districts.”

The state has a decades-long history of needing court interventions to prevent racial gerrymandering, the MALDEF suit noted.

“Nevertheless, history repeated itself in the Texas Legislature in 2021,” it stated. 

The suit took pains to narrate the unusual circumstances of this year’s redistricting schedule. 

State lawmakers’ process “included departures from normal procedures and departures from substantive considerations usually considered important by the Legislature in redistricting,” plaintiffs alleged, including rushed processes that allowed for little time to analyze Republicans’ proposed maps. 

In one case, House Redistricting Committee Chair Todd Hunter (R) introduced a substitute bill for the state House redistricting map that had previously been under consideration — and “took no public testimony” before the committee voted on the substitute proposal within 15 minutes, the suit said. Separately, the public was only given 12 hours to register for virtual testimony about the proposed U.S. congressional map, the suit added. 

MALDEF and the several organizations suing the state, all members of the Texas Latino Redistricting Task Force, asked the court to find that state Republicans’ redistricting plans “illegally and unconstitutionally dilute the voting strength of Latino voters in Texas and are unlawful, null and void,” among other requests.

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