87th LegislatureElections 2022FederalJudicialNew Redistricting Lawsuits Target South Texas House Districts

Led by state Rep. Rafael Anchìa, the Texas House Mexican American Legislative Caucus has filed two lawsuits against the new district maps.
November 3, 2021
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Two new lawsuits over the recent redistricting in Texas have been filed in state and federal courts by the Mexican American Legislative Caucus (MALC) in the Texas House of Representatives.

The filings follow a few similar redistricting lawsuits but offer more specific criticisms that could serve as a prelude to the emerging political battle over the partisan makeup of Texas’ border districts.

MALC’s state lawsuit hones in on one particular complaint: that the new Texas House map violates the constitutional “county line rule” by splitting Cameron County into three districts with two of them divided into multiple counties.

Texas House district boundary lines in Cameron County under the new map. Image from the Texas Legislative Council.

Under the state constitution, House redistricting plans are uniquely required to stay within county lines to the greatest extent possible.

While laying out the House map on the chamber floor, Rep. Todd Hunter (R-Corpus Christi), the chairman of the House Redistricting Committee, acknowledged the county line rule and noted that there are exceptions to the requirement when “the population growth isn’t enough to sustain the representatives in the county” but that “you can’t just divide the county up.”

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MALC argues that although it would be warranted — even required — to split one of the three districts into multiple counties in order to stay within the permissible population range, splitting two of the districts is unconstitutional.

The second lawsuit from MALC, which was filed in a federal district court, makes broader claims that the new maps for the state House, the U.S. House of Representatives, and the State Board of Education (SBOE) violate the U.S. Constitution and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA).

Like the other lawsuits, the federal MALC suit contends that the maps dilute the voting strength of Latino citizens, but goes into more specific arguments about the legislative process and which districts the group finds contentious.

The complaint alleges that the state failed to adequately aid the 2020 census count, resulting in an undercount that was particularly exacerbated in heavily populated Hispanic communities along the border.

MALC claims that “Texas has a long and notorious history of discriminating when drawing district lines” and that the adoption of the maps was “irregular, truncated, and designed to eliminate transparency and deliberation.”

For instance, MALC criticizes Hunter’s decision to hold a committee vote on the amendments for the state House map the same day it was heard, rejecting a plea from one of the Democrats to give more time to review the amendments.

“Then, remarkably, when a non-controversial amendment from a Latino member of the Committee which would have only made minor agreed-to changes to a few predominantly Latino districts was offered, Chairman Hunter refused to support the amendment on the grounds that there had been insufficient time to review its impacts,” states the complaint.

MALC argues that the new House map is “discriminatory,” particularly in the following districts:

  • House District (HD) 76 and HD 77 in El Paso County, which were consolidated with the former district moving to Fort Bend County. The new HD 76 is a Democrat-leaning majority-minority district and MALC acknowledges that El Paso was due to lose representation based on the census, but argues that a fifth partial district should be “anchored with at least half of its population in El Paso and which does not extend all the way into Maverick County (roughly 500 miles away).”
  • HD 31 in South Texas, which shifted from having a Texas Partisan Index (TPI) rating of D-56% under the old map to R-57% under the new one. MALC contends that “extreme Anglo bloc voting from counties to the North prevents” the heavily Latino border communities “from electing candidates of their choice.”
  • HD 37 in Cameron County, which MALC contends was drawn to dilute the voting power of Latinos “while impermissibly packing HD 38.”
  • HD 80 in South Texas, which MALC claims “retrogresses Latino and the Spanish language community’s voting power.”
  • HD 90 in Tarrant County, which MALC says “dilutes the ability of Latinos to elect the candidate of their choice in Primary Elections.”
  • HD 118 in Bexar County, which MALC argues “was redrawn to dilute the voting power of Latinos in what is otherwise a performing Latino opportunity district.

More broadly, MALC also contends that more “Latino opportunity districts should be drawn in West Texas, Central Texas, and the Nueces County region,” and that there should be a minimum of seven districts in Harris County with a majority Hispanic Citizen Voting Age Population (HCVAP) instead of the four such districts under the new map.

Similar to the other lawsuits, MALC takes issue with Texas’ 15th Congressional District — which was redrawn to increase the likelihood of a Republican winning the seat — and the neighboring 34th Congressional District.

On the congressional map, the organization also claims that the VRA “requires drawing a Latino opportunity district in the DFW Metroplex” as well as an additional one in Harris County.

With the SBOE map, they argue that “Latino voting power in [SBOE] Districts 2 and 3 is severely diluted,” and that a new Latino opportunity district should be drawn in Harris County.

The lawsuits ask the courts to enjoin the state from using the new map and order new maps to be used if the state does not “adopt valid redistricting plans” by a date set by the court.

Currently, the filing period for candidates is set for November 13 through December 13, 2021, with the primary election date slated for March 1, 2022, though courts have delayed such dates in previous redistricting cycles.

“Texas politicians undermined representative democracy to remain in power for the next decade at the expense of Texas voters,” said MALC chair Rep. Rafael Anchìa (D-Dallas) in a statement. “MALC will protect the freedom to vote for all Texans, from the Texas Capitol to the White House.”

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Daniel Friend

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.