For the second month in a row, a U.S. district court panel on Thursday afternoon found that a Texas district map illegally discriminates against minority voters. In March, a three-judge panel ruled that the state's congressional map unconstitutionally limits the effects of votes cast by Texas' ethnic minorities. Thursday, a different panel ruled by the same 2-1 margin that Texas' House map does the same.
In using race to configure House districts, the judges said, Texas Republicans "turned the Voting Rights Act on its head." Specifically, the judges pointed to Texas' urban counties, including Dallas, El Paso, Tarrant, Harris and Bexar, as areas where the votes of the state's growing Hispanic population were diluted. In House Districts 103, 104 and 105 in Dallas County, the court said, Republicans drawing the map violated the VRA.
“The impact of the plan was certainly to reduce minority voting opportunity statewide, resulting in even less proportional representation for minority voters,” U.S. District Judges Orlando Garcia and Xavier Rodriguez said in their opinion. "Instead of using race to provide equal electoral opportunity, they intentionally used it to undermine Latino voting opportunity."
"The Court finds that map drawers improperly used race with an intent to dilute Latino voting strength by wasting Latino votes in HD103 and HD104, and creating a more Anglo HD105 to protect the Anglo Republican incumbent in the general election," Garcia and Rodriguez wrote.
Republicans packed Latinos in western Dallas County into Districts 103 and 104 to protect District 105 state Representative Rodney Anderson, the court determined.
Judge Jerry Smith, on loan to Texas' Western District from the 5th Circuit, accused Garcia and Rodriguez of misunderstanding the intent of the Republicans who redrew the map.“Despite its heartfelt efforts, this panel majority has badly overreached in finding that Texas used race, instead of partisan advantage, as the predominant factor in the 2011 redistricting,” Smith wrote.
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He added that those reading the ruling should "stay tuned" for an appeal.
Dallas state Representative Rafael Anchia, the chairman of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, said the ruling was just the latest proof of the state of Texas' long history of limiting the influence of minority voters.
"In nearly every instance since the 1970s Supreme Court decision in White v. Regester, the Texas Legislature has drawn electoral maps in violation of the Constitutional protections against discrimination and the Voting Rights Act," Anchia said in a statement.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton disagreed with the ruling, pointing to Smith's dissent to Thursday's ruling as proof the state would keep the current House map for the 2018 election. "As 5th Circuit Judge Jerry Smith observed in his dissent, the challenge to the old 2011 maps are not only moot but 'a finding that racial considerations were dominant and controlling defies everything about this record,'" Paxton said in a statement. "Accordingly, we are confident we will ultimately prevail in this case."