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Three federal judges have ordered Texas to redraw congressional district boundary lines after ruling the Republican-led state legislature intended to discriminate against minority voters in crafting the original boundaries.
The decision is almost certain to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, setting up another battle on the eve of the decennial reapportionment and redistricting process that could determine how far parties may go to tilt the political scales in their favor.
The federal judges said, in an opinion issued late Tuesday, that congressional districts held by Reps. Blake FarentholdRandolph (Blake) Blake FarentholdThe biggest political upsets of the decade Members spar over sexual harassment training deadline Female Dems see double standard in Klobuchar accusations MORE (R) and Lloyd Doggett (D) were drawn with the intent to diminish the political power of minority voters.
The two districts were drawn in 2013, two years after the initial round of new maps came under scrutiny by federal judges. The court ruled Tuesday that the new lines continued the discriminatory intent first demonstrated under the initial 2011 lines.
"The Court concludes that the racially discriminatory intent and effects that it previously found in the 2011 plans carry over into the 2013 plans where ... district lines remain unchanged," the judges wrote in a unanimous opinion. "The Legislature in 2013 intentionally furthered and continued the existing discrimination in the plans."
The judges said Farenthold's district was drawn to "intentionally" deprive Hispanic voters of an opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice. Farenthold, who won his seat in 2010 when he ousted then-Rep. Solomon Ortiz (D), benefitted from the Republican legislature's remap when they drew heavily Republican precincts into an otherwise Democratic-leaning district.
Republican legislators improperly used race as a driving factor in drawing Doggett's district, the judges found. Doggett represents a district that stretches from downtown Austin to downtown San Antonio, taking in virtually every Democratic precinct in the fast-growing Texas Hill Country.
The judges also said that another Texas district, one held by Rep. Will Hurd (R), could remain undisturbed. The court said the district was drawn in such a way that Hispanic voters could exert their influence.
Texas Democrats hailed the ruling as a win, one that proved Republicans had sought to marginalize minority voices.
"The court's decision makes clear that intentional discrimination has become business as usual for Texas Republicans," said Matt Angle, who runs the Lone Star Project, a Democratic political action committee that has helped fund some of the legal work challenging the district lines. "They equate retaining leadership with discrimination and vote suppression."
The court told Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) to inform them within three days whether the Texas legislature would redraw the lines themselves. If the legislature does not act, the court will oversee a redistricting process negotiated between plaintiffs who sued over the district boundaries and state attorneys who argued to keep them.
In a statement, Paxton claimed a win for preserving Hurd's district. He said other parts of the ruling, against court-drawn district lines from 2013, was "puzzling," and he hinted at a likely appeal.
"We look forward to asking the Supreme Court to decide whether Texas had discriminatory intent when relying on the district court," Paxton said.
The ruling is the third this year by the San Antonio-based court striking down some element of Texas's congressional district lines. The case did not address the state House district lines, which have also been challenged by Democratic and minority voters. That case remains on the docket.
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