87th LegislatureElections 2022JudicialState SenateSen. Beverly Powell Sues State Over Tarrant County Senate District Lines

The Democratic state senator from Tarrant County argues that the new map “is an intentional racially discriminatory scheme.”
November 4, 2021
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History tends to repeat itself, and the case is no different in Tarrant County.

A decade ago, then-state Sen. Wendy Davis filed a lawsuit against a redistricting plan, alleging that the boundary shifts made to Senate District (SD) 10 in Tarrant County to shore up Republican votes against her, the incumbent Democrat, “dilutes the voting strength of minority voters.”

Sen. Beverly Powell (D-Burleson) has now filed a similar lawsuit, likewise claiming that the new boundaries of SD 10 “is an intentional racially discriminatory scheme to undermine and destroy the voting rights of those I am elected to serve.”

“After the creation of current SD 10 lines nearly two decades ago, politicians have engaged in intentional discrimination and relentelessly attacked the growing minority voting strength with our county,” said Powell in a press release.

“Nearly the same attack on Tarrant County citizens was launched 10 years ago. Then, like now, Tarrant citizens fought back. The Courts ruled that the map drawn in 2011 was intentionally discriminatory and ordered SD 10 returned to a Tarrant County-only district. The map adopted now is even worse than 10 years ago.”

The Texan Tumbler

During the recent redistricting process, the new state Senate map presented by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) shifted the partisan leanings in nearly all competitive districts to boost support for incumbents. The glaring exception to that was in SD 10, which went from a competitive, slightly Democrat-leaning seat to a Republican-leaning district.

A simple metric to see the difference is in the Texas Partisan Index rating of SD 10: before redistricting, it was at D-51%; after, it became R-60%.

The new Republican votes in the district largely came from the addition of Johnson, Palo Pinto, Stephens, Shackelford, Callahan, and Brown counties, as well as a significant portion of Parker County.

Rural GOP voters in those areas offset many of the Democratic voters that were in Tarrant County, where the current lines of SD 10 are currently drawn within.

But the reduction of voters in Tarrant County comes with a reduction in the percentage of non-Anglo voters.

According to the analysis by the Texas Legislative Council, the total non-Anglo population dropped from 60.5 percent under the current boundaries to 51 percent with the new map. The non-Anglo Voting Age Population (VAP) likewise dropped from 56.1 percent to 46.7 percent.

Powell’s lawsuit claims that “the legislature purposefully cracked apart Tarrant County’s minority voters [. . .] and splintered them across three senate districts in which they will be overpowered by Anglo bloc-voting against their candidate of choice.”

The suit also argues that the new map failed to achieve any of the criteria Huffman established for redistricting, which included “population equality,” “preserving political subdivisions,” “compactness,” “preserving the core of existing districts,” “preserving communities of interest,” and “incumbent protection.”

“Sen. Huffman could not cite which of these criteria she followed when drawing SD10; she falsely and pretextually asserted that her decision to crack apart SD10’s minority communities served ‘all’ of these supposed redistricting criteria,” reads the complaint.

Though Huffman constantly repeated that her maps were drawn “blind to race,” the lawsuit alleges that she and her team had preexisting knowledge about where minority communities were located and intentionally carved them up.

The suit even asserted that Huffman viewed and initialed maps with minority population data on them, something that Powell also brought up on the Senate floor. During the debate before the vote, though, Huffman said that when Powell showed her the maps to initial, she immediately turned them over to a blank side when she realized it was related to minority data.

For the upcoming midterm elections with the new maps, the filing period is currently scheduled to begin on November 13, 2021, and the primary election date is slated for March 1, 2021, but courts have ordered different dates in previous redistricting cycles because of lawsuits such as this one.

While Powell’s complaint focuses on the Senate map, other lawsuits have challenged the state House, State Board of Education, and congressional maps.

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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.