Justice Department Sues Texas Over New Maps

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The Justice Department has sued to block Texas’ new redistricting maps, claiming the GOP-drawn maps violates the Voting Rights Act since it refuses to “recognize the State’s growing minority electorate.”

“This is not the first time Texas has acted to minimize the voting rights of its minority citizens,” the lawsuit reads. “Decade after decade, Texas has enacted redistricting plans that violate the Voting Rights Act.”

During a brief press conference, Attorney General Merrick Garland said Texas’s new redistricting maps approved by the Republican-controlled legislature and signed by Gov. Greg Abbott in October failed to reflect the considerable growth of the minority population in Texas since 2010. The suit asks the Federak court to stop Texas from holding elections under the new maps and to redraw the state’s congressional and state House districts.

“The complaint we filed today alleges that Texas has violated section two 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,” Garland told reporters at a press conference Monday in announcing the lawsuit. “The department’s career voting law experts have assessed Texas’s new redistricting plans and determine that they include districts that violate the Voting Rights Act.”

Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act holds that state laws must provide voters “with an equal opportunity to participate in the democratic process and elect representatives of their choosing,” Garland added.

Texas was granted two additional Congressional seats because its population has grown significantly since the last time the Census data was collected ten years ago. The 2020 census in August, when announcing the results of the states’ population, showed that Texas gained the most residents of any state since 2010 — putting the Lone Star State’s population at 29,145,505 — a 16% jump from 25.1 million in 2010. Hispanic Texans were responsible for half of the 16% increase, with the share now making up 39.3% of the state’s population. Texans Hispanic, Black, and Asian populations accounted for 95% of the state’s population growth in 2020

“Our complaint today alleges that the redistricting plans approved by the Texas state legislature and signed into law by the governor will deny black and Latino voters an equal opportunity to participate in the voting process and to elect representatives of their choice in violation of the Voting Rights Act,” Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta, the third-ranking Justice Department official said in Monday’s press conference. “Our complaint also alleges that several of those districts were drawn with discriminatory intent.”

The lawsuit alleges that several of the districts from Texas’s new map were drawn with the specific intent of discriminating against minority voters. It cites specifically Texas Congressional District 23, currently represented by Republican Rep. Tony Gonzales, taking a particular issue to show how the West Texas district is not the first time “courts had identified Voting Rights Act violations during the previous two redistricting cycles.”

The Justice officials noted in the suit how Texas two new Congressional seats it obtained due to its growth of population lacked a new Latino majority opportunity seat in Houston’s Harris County. It also accused the state of having “surgically excised minority communities from the core of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex (DFW) by attaching them to heavily Anglo rural counties, some more than a hundred miles away.”

Gupta claimed Texas “rushed” to approve the redistricting plan “with an overall disregard for the massive minority population growth in Texas over the last decade.”

“Despite the significant increase in the number and proportion of eligible Latino and Black voters in Texas, the newly enacted redistricting plans will not allow minority voters an equal opportunity to elect representatives of their choice,” Gupta said, reflecting parts of the claims in the lawsuit to fault the “compressed timeline” of Texas special session to argue how the legislature quickly drafted the redistricting map only for the legislation to be signed just a month later.

Garland reiterated calls for Congress to restore the “preclearance” requirement, which mandates jurisdictions with a history of discriminatory election laws get changes approved by either the Department of Justice or a D.C.-based federal court. The “preclearance” requirement was gutted in the mid-2010s following a Supreme Court decision.

“I want to again urge Congress to restore the Justice Department’s preclearance authority,” Garland said. “Were that preclearance tool still in place, we would likely not be here today, announcing this complaint.”

Texas Attorney General’s office responded to Garland’s lawsuit following the announcement.

“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,” Texas Attorney General tweeted.

The legal battle is the third time the Biden Justice Department has targeted the Texas state government, and the second time it has sued over an election-related matter. Last month, Garland separately sued Texas last month over the state recently-implemented new election law — Senate Bill 1, targeting provisions surrounding mail-in voting requirements and voter assistance, arguing it violated federal civil rights protections.

In September, Garland sued Texas over its recently enacted law that bans abortions after about six weeks, arguing that the law prevented women from exercising their constitutionally protected right to have abortions.

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