Court Battles

Judges deny request to put Texas map under federal oversight

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Federal judges on Wednesday denied a request to put Texas under federal redistricting supervision, a process known as preclearance.

The panel in San Antonio ruled that intervention was not warranted while at the same time expressing “grave concerns” about the state’s past conduct in drawing maps.

{mosads}District Judge Xavier Rodriguez cited Texas lawmakers’ enactment of a voter ID rule, a failed voter-purge attempt and state mapmakers’ practice of slicing up minority communities into voting districts designed to restrict the political influence of minority voters as examples of concerning activity.

Texas would have been the first state pushed back under preclearance if judges had ruled the other way.

The practice, a part of the Voting Rights Act that protected minority voters, was largely eliminated by a 2013 Supreme Court case.

The three judges had previously determined that Texas’s unconstitutional redistricting in 2011 was sufficient to require federal oversight.

However, the Supreme Court’s decision last year to uphold the state’s maps redrawn in 2013 ultimately meant the judges ruled ordering preclearance “would be inappropriate.”

“Although the Court’s findings of intentional racial discrimination in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment with regard to the 2011 plans are sufficient to trigger bail-in, and although the court has serious concerns about the State’s past conduct, the various requests for discretionary relief … are hereby denied,” the judge wrote.

The decision is a loss for voting rights activists, who argued for federal intervention because state lawmakers, led by Republicans, drew boundaries that undermined the political clout of the state’s rapidly rising Hispanic population.

The 2010 census showed the Texas population had grown by 4.2 million new people, 90 percent of whom were minorities.

The judges noted Wednesday that the rise of Texas’s minority population makes future electoral map challenges likely.

“Given the fact of changing population demographics, the likelihood increases that the Texas Legislature will continue to find ways to attempt to engage in ‘ingenious defiance of the Constitution’ that necessitated the preclearance system in the first place,” they noted.

Texas officials argued they did not intentionally discriminate against minority voters, but just drew districts designed to protect incumbent Republicans, an accepted practice that doesn’t qualify for the harsh fix of preclearance.

The Texas Democratic Party blasted the decision, committing to work harder to ending discriminatory tactics.

“We are disappointed that further remedy has not been provided by the Court to right the wrongs that Texas Republicans have imposed on the people of our great state. But our resolve has never been stronger,” party chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said in a statement.

“Now more than ever, Texas Democrats must flip the state house in order to fight so that every Texan has fair and equal representation. Now more than ever, Democrats must win the White House and both chambers of Congress so that a new Voting Rights Act is enacted that puts an end to these discriminatory Republican tactics that silence the voice of Texans.”

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