DOJ sues over Texas’s redistricting plan
The Department of Justice (DOJ) on Monday sued Texas over the state’s new redistricting plan, alleging its map illegally undermines minority groups’ right to vote.
DOJ officials said that while the number of Latino and Black voters in Texas grew significantly over the last decade, the state’s new map dilutes minority voting strength in violation of federal law.
“The department’s career voting law experts have assessed Texas’s new redistricting plans and determined that they include districts that violate the Voting Rights Act,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said at a press conference announcing the lawsuit.
The legal challenge comes after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) in October signed into law a new congressional map that independent analysts say gives Republicans an unfair partisan advantage.
The Supreme Court has previously held that the practice of drawing manipulated congressional and legislative district maps for political advantage is not reviewable by federal courts. But redistricting plans that disproportionately harm minority groups remain illegal under the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
The new DOJ lawsuit, filed in federal court in El Paso, goes even further: It alleges that several districts contained in Texas’s new map were drawn with the specific intent of discriminating against minority voters.
“Our complaint today alleges that the redistricting plans approved by the Texas state legislature and signed into law by the governor will deny black and Latino voters an equal opportunity to participate in the voting process and to elect representatives of their choice in violation of the Voting Rights Act,” said Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta. “Our complaint also alleges that several of those districts were drawn with discriminatory intent.”
Attempts to reach the offices of Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) were unsuccessful.
The once-per-decade redistricting process began in mid-August with the release of Census Bureau data, which in some states set off a scramble to manipulate voting maps for partisan gain. The political stakes for the upcoming 2022 midterms are enormous, with control of the U.S. House hanging in the balance.
Gerrymandering, the practice of drawing congressional and state legislative districts to dilute an opposing party’s voting power, has been around roughly since the nation’s founding. But some experts have warned that the Supreme Court’s weakening of the federal government’s ability to respond could contribute to unprecedented levels of map manipulation during this round of redistricting.
Garland on Monday bemoaned a 2013 Supreme Court decision that eliminated DOJ’s so-called preclearance authority, which had allowed the department to screen proposed changes to voting procedures in states with a history of racial discrimination in elections before they took effect.
He reiterated his previous calls on Congress to restore preclearance authority, but said that in the meantime “the department will use all available authorities and resources to continue protecting the right to vote.”
The DOJ suit asks the court to block Texas from holding elections under its contested map and to order the state to redraw its districts in compliance with federal law.
–Updated at 3:15 p.m.