Federal court: Texas House districts must be redrawn

Federal court: Texas House districts must be redrawn
© Getty Images

A panel of federal judges in San Antonio ruled late Friday that the Texas state legislature must redraw congressional maps in three districts it said unconstitutionally discriminates against Hispanic voters.

In a 2-1 ruling, district court judges found the Texas legislature violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. They ordered the legislature to redraw lines defining districts held by Texas Reps. Will Hurd (R), Blake FarentholdRandolph (Blake) Blake FarentholdGOP tax bill hits professional sports stadium bonds Overnight Regulation: Treasury slams consumer bureau's arbitration rule | EPA considers repealing truck emissions rule | GOP senators offer wildfire management bill Texas lawmakers introduce bill to make hot air balloon rides safer MORE (R) and Lloyd Doggett (D).

The two judges who ruled for the plaintiffs found Republicans repeatedly tried to dilute the political power of Latino voters — either packing them into one specific district, or dividing communities between separate districts, a process called "cracking."

ADVERTISEMENT
"The Court finds that this evidence persuasively demonstrates that mapdrawers intentionally packed and cracked on the basis of race ... with the intent to dilute minority voting strength," Judges Xavier Rodriguez and Orlando Garcia wrote. 

Texas Democrats called the ruling a victory for voting rights.

"The San Antonio Federal District Court ruled that Texas Republicans intentionally discriminated against Texas’ diverse new majority," said Gilberto Hinojosa, the state Democratic Party chairman. "Republicans have ensured that the dark days of discrimination in Texas continue to loom, but the sun will soon shine. In time, justice prevails."

Texas Republicans did not immediately react to the ruling.

The decision is the latest step in a years-long legal battle over the Texas legislature's efforts to give Republicans a leg up in congressional races in Texas — a fight that began even before district lines were finalized after the 2010 Census.

Disputes over district lines in the Dallas-Fort Worth area after the Census awarded Texas several new House seats delayed enactment of new maps prior to the 2012 elections, and delayed that year's primary — giving a little-known Senate candidate named Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzOvernight Finance: GOP criticism of tax bill grows, but few no votes | Highlights from day two of markup | House votes to overturn joint-employer rule | Senate panel approves North Korean banking sanctions GOP criticism of tax bill grows, but few ready to vote against it Anti-gay marriage county clerk Kim Davis to seek reelection in Kentucky MORE an extra few weeks to campaign for a seat he ultimately won.

Later, the legal fight shifted to the Austin area, where Doggett's seat is based; to Farenthold's district, along the Gulf Coast; and to the border with Mexico, where Hurd's district lies.

The San Antonio-based district court ruled in 2013 that the legislature violated a different provision of the Voting Rights Act that would require Texas to seek federal approval before making dramatic changes to election procedures. But the U.S. Supreme Court later struck down that provision, forcing plaintiffs to bring suit under Section 2.