Federal Court Strikes Down Two Texas Congressional Districts
August 16th, 2017
Districts Drawn on Basis of Race
On Tuesday, a three-judge panel of the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas ruled that Texas Congressional Districts 27 and 35 violated the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act because they were primarily drawn on the basis of race. Ultimately, this weakened the voting power of Latino and African American minority groups.
The Texas Attorney General’s Office has until Friday to tell the court whether the Texas Legislature will take up the redistricting process and fix the current violations. If not, the court will hold a hearing on Sept. 5 to discuss the appropriate remedies.
Congressional Map Battle Ensuing Since 2011
The 107-page ruling was the result of a long-standing legal battle over Texas’ congressional maps. In 2011, the initial maps drawn by lawmakers never went into affect. The same court ruled, at the time, that the Texas Legislature intended to weaken the strength of Latino and African American voters when drawing state congressional districts. This resulted in the 2012 elections being conducted with intern maps drawn by the court. In 2013, however, state lawmakers voted to adopt the interim maps instead of redrawing the ones originally denied by the court.
The state argued that lawmakers could not have planned to discriminate against voters because they adopted the court-drawn maps. However, the court rejected this argument in their ruling stating that, “Although this court had ‘approved’ the maps for use as interim maps, given the severe time constraints it was operating under at the time of their adoption,” their approval was “subject to revision.” The court ruled that the intentional discrimination found in the 2011 maps had carried over into the ones used by the court. This is evident in Districts 27 and 35 because the district boundaries were unchanged. The judges did uphold the validity of several other districts, including District 23 of Helotes, a West Texas district that has been previously flagged as discriminatory but has been modified by the court since.
Texas May Take Issue to the United States Supreme Court
In a statement, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton expressed that the parts of the ruling that went in Texas’ favor were appreciated. “But the portion of the ruling that went against Texas is puzzling considering the Legislature adopted the congressional map the same court itself adopted in 2012,” Paxton said. He further stated that his office looks forward to asking the United States Supreme Court to hear the case; an option also available to the opponents of the congressional districts that the Court upheld.
A History of Discrimination in Texas
Previously, Texas was on a list of states with histories of discrimination and required the Federal Government’s permission before changing election laws. This pre-clearance was assigned under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act; however, the Supreme Court ruled that Section 5 violated the Constitution in 2013.
Under Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act, a “bail-in” provision maintains that jurisdictions that have intentionally discriminated would be subject to the pre-clearance process. The plaintiffs in Tuesday’s ruling have argued that Texas should be subject to this process once again. It will not be clear what the fate of the Texas Legislature holds until the congressional map is redrawn and all violations have been corrected.
Priyanka Kasnavia has been writing blogs for Simmons and Fletcher, P.C., for the past two years. She is a rising 2L at the University of Houston Law Center and her expertise centers on research, search engine optimization, and content creation.