Texas redistricting ruled discriminatory

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A federal judge panel on March 10 ruled that three Texas congressional districts, including one from Central Texas, were drawn with the intention to discriminate against Latino and black voters.

The San Antonio panel invalidated three districts encompassing South, West and Central Texas drawn during the 2011 legislative session after the U.S. 2010 census was released. The panel’s majority said the districts violate either the 14th Amendment or the Voting Rights Act, and one area is currently represented by U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin.

Congressional District 23, represented by U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes, runs along the Mexican border from El Paso to San Antonio and is predominately Hispanic. Congressional District 27, represented by U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi, runs along the coastal bend of the Gulf Coast.

The panel did not offer recommendations to redistrict the areas in its ruling, and Attorney General Ken Paxton can ask the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the panel’s ruling. U.S. District Judges Xavier Rodriguez and Orlando Garcia wrote the majority, saying Republican lawmakers excluded minority voters and Democrats in a hurried redistricting process.

“There was no meaningful debate over minority-proposed plans,” the majority wrote. “And few minority-proposed changes were given meaningful consideration or adopted.”

The panel’s ruling comes six years after the map was first challenged in court upon its contentious creation. U.S. District Judge Jerry Smith dissented, saying race was not used to draw the districts.

“All sides concede that — whether it is a good thing or not — Texas has a strong correlation between race and party,” Smith said in his dissenting opinion. “It naturally follows that actions taken to disadvantage Democrats will disproportionately affect non-Anglo voters, regardless of the intent.”

Both the state House of Representatives and Senate propose bills for new districts to be drawn after each census. The majority said different proposed 2011 plans were released quickly, allowing little time for hearings.

The panel also said Doggett’s district, Congressional District 35, was drawn to create a Hispanic-majority voter population with the intention to unseat him. The panel said this use of race violates the Voting Rights Act.

“The fact that the creation of an (Hispanic-majority) district also fulfilled a political goal does not mean that the district was not created with race as the predominant consideration,” the majority wrote.