Court Voids Texas Redistricting, Finds Biased Intent

 
on August 28 2012 9:19 PM

A federal court ruled Tuesday that Texas' redistricting maps discriminate against black and Hispanic voters, effectively killing the new districts before they could take effect for the November election.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia issued the ruling, Reuters reported. The state maps, passed by the Republican-dominated Texas legislature, redrew districts in a way that reduced the influence of minority voters, the court ruled.

November's election will likely use interim maps drawn by a federal court in San Antonio instead.

The judges found that seats belonging to white incumbent members of Congress were protected under the plan while districts belonging to incumbent minorities were targeted for changes, Talking Points Memo reported.

The court was "persuaded by the totality of the evidence that the plan was enacted with discriminatory intent," according to the ruling. There was "sufficient evidence to conclude that the congressional plan was motivated, at least in part, by discriminatory intent," the court found.

In fact, the three judges said they were overwhelmed with the amount of evidence showing the redistricting was intentionally discriminatory, writing in a footnote that parties "have provided more evidence of discriminatory intent than we have space, or need, to address here."

The Obama administration in 2011 blocked the maps, arguing they violated the 1965 Voting Rights Act, a law designed to protect the voting rights of minorities, primarily blacks in Southern states.

In rejecting the maps, the court could have stopped at ruling that they had a discriminatory effect, but it took the further step of ruling that the Texas legislature had a discriminatory intent in its drawing of the maps.

Under the Voting Rights Act, Texas had the burden to prove that its maps did not discriminate, nor that they intended to.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said in a statement that he would appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. He called the ruling an extension of the Voting Rights Act beyond what Congress had intended.

All three redistricting plans - for Texas' congressional delegation, its state House of Representatives and the state Senate - were blocked by the federal court. The Supreme Court had earlier ruled that interim maps drawn by a federal court were invalid.

The panel of three judges found that "surgery" had been performed on congressional districts belonging to minority members of Congress while no such alterations were made to districts belonging to incumbent white members of Congress.

"Anglo district boundaries were redrawn to include particular country clubs and, in one case, the school belonging to the incumbent's grandchildren," the judges wrote.

The three-judge panel consisted of Judge Thomas Griffith and Judge Rosemary M. Collyer, who were both appointed by President George W. Bush - formerly the governor of Texas - and Judge Beryl A. Howell, appointed by President Barack Obama.

"The fact that a three-judge panel, including two Republican-appointed judges, has found that Texas has intentionally discriminated against minority communities is incredible," said Luis Vera, attorney for the co-plaintiff United Latin American Citizens. "This is the biggest victory for the Voting Rights Act since it was approved by Congress." 

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