“The complaint we filed today alleges that Texas has violated Section 2 [of the Voting Rights Act] by creating redistricting plans that deny or abridge the rights of Latino and Black voters to vote on account of their race, color or membership in a language minority group,” said Attorney General Merrick Garland at a press conference on Monday.
The lawsuit is critical of the congressional plan and the state House plan but doesn’t touch the state Senate map.
In particular, the DOJ attacks the changes to Texas’ 23rd Congressional District (TX-23) and the lack of new Latino-majority congressional seats in the Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) Metroplex and Harris County.
TX-23, currently held by Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-TX-23), is located in the vast space of West Texas between El Paso and San Antonio.
The district has been a battleground between Republicans and Democrats in recent years, though Gonzales, a freshman, outperformed his predecessor in his 2020 election results against Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones.
But the changes in redistricting made TX-23 a safer seat for Republicans, shifting its Texas Partisan Index (TPI) rating from evenly split between the two parties to a seat where Republicans in the 2018 and 2020 elections were favored with 54 percent of the vote (R-54%).
According to data from the Texas Legislative Council, the Latino Voting Age Population (VAP) in TX-23 declined from 65.7 percent to exactly 60 percent with the new map.
Though the Latino population is still a majority in the district, the DOJ argues that the changes to the map “consciously [replaces] many of the district’s active Latino voters with low-turnout Latino citizens, in an effort to strengthen the voting power of Anglo citizens while preserving the superficial appearance of Latino control.”
The criticisms related to the DFW and Houston areas echo a key talking point from Democrats that with population increases among minorities being the main driver of growth for the state in the last decade, more majority-minority districts should have been created.
“[P]roportional representation for Latino voters in Texas would be 11 Congressional seats and 45 Texas House seats. Under the enacted 2021 plans, Latino voters have the opportunity to elect their preferred candidates in 7 Congressional seats and 29 Texas House seats,” says the DOJ.
With its arguments against the state House plan, the Biden administration officials condemn the changes to House District (HD) 118, HD 31, and the districts in El Paso.
The first two districts are both seats that Republicans have gained in recent months — HD 118 through a special election and HD 31 with Rep. Ryan Guillen (R-Rio Grande City) changing his party affiliation.
With the new redistricting plans, the partisan leanings of both districts shift toward the GOP, but the DOJ argues that it weakens the Latino voting strength.
Like TX-23, both House districts in question remain Latino-majority districts.
The case against the El Paso Texas House seats repeats arguments that have been made before, namely criticizing the removal of HD 76 and the pairing of Reps. Lina Ortega (D-El Paso) and Claudia Ordaz Perez (D-El Paso).
Because of the low population growth in El Paso, lawmakers had to reduce the amount of representation in the district. Consequently, HD 76 was removed and placed in the rapidly growing Fort Bend County.
Though not mentioned in the lawsuit, the new HD 76 remains a majority-minority district with an Asian VAP of 33.5 percent, Anglo VAP of 22.3 percent, Black VAP of 22.1 percent, and Hispanic VAP of 21.7 percent.
In previous decades, Texas was required by the Voting Rights Act to obtain preclearance from the federal government for its new redistricting plan. A 2013 Supreme Court ruling effectively ended that requirement.
Calling it the “department’s best tool for protecting voting rights,” Garland urged Congress to “restore the Justice Department’s preclearance authority.”
“Were that preclearance tool still in place, we would likely not be here today announcing this complaint,” said Garland.
The lawsuit is a last-minute effort to halt the implementation of the new maps before the filing period for primary candidates ends next week on December 13.
But Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton expressed optimism that the new state maps will be upheld in court.
“The Department of Justice’s absurd lawsuit against our state is the Biden Administration’s latest ploy to control Texas voters. I am confident that our legislature’s redistricting decisions will be proven lawful, and this preposterous attempt to sway democracy will fail,” said Paxton.
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Daniel Friend is a reporter for The Texan. He participated in a Great Books program at Azusa Pacific University and graduated in 2019 with a degree in Political Science. He has studied C.S. Lewis’s science fiction trilogy and in his spare time you might find him writing his own novel partly inspired by the series.