At issue is whether the state's map meets requirements of the Voting Rights Act, which protects minority voters against discrimination. Texas Republicans might have overreached when they did not add any new minority-heavy districts to the new map, despite the state’s gaining four congressional seats because of its population growth, most of which came from Hispanics and African-Americans.
They also swapped out many Hispanic precincts in Rep. Francisco “Quico” Canseco’s (R-Texas) district to undercut Hispanic Democrats there and help Canseco win reelection, which could also be illegal.
If the Republican map became law, the GOP would likely enjoy a 26-10 advantage in the state House delegation, up from the 23-9 edge the party has now. But a court-drawn map will likely give Democrats 12 or 13 seats instead.
Republicans put themselves in this predicament with an aggressive gerrymander that might not pass legal muster. They also failed to pass a map with enough time to get it cleared in Washington, and opted to go through the courts instead of the Department of Justice, a much slower process.
The high stakes of the case could observed in the attendees: Top lawyers and strategists for both parties came to watch Wednesday’s oral arguments, as did Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas).
After judges questioned representatives of the state of Texas as well as officials from the Justice Department and civil-rights groups that are working to stop the map, they made it clear they would not approve the map early enough for it to be implemented in time for next year’s election.
They also seemed skeptical of the arguments Texas’s attorneys made about which factors should determine whether the state maps discriminated against minority voters — an ominous signal for the map down the road — and at times showed deference to Justice Department officials regarding some details of the case. Since those officials already have objected to aspects of the map, that is another bad sign for Texas Republicans.
Democrats and civil-rights groups are bullish on the prospect the map will be thrown out in the long term because it watered down Hispanic voting strength in parts of the state and failed to create new majority-Hispanic districts, while some Republicans privately expressed pessimism that their map would stand.
“I’m feeling very optimistic about it,” said Democratic attorney Gerry Hebert, who represents one of the plaintiffs in the case.