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Wednesday, October 5, 2022
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Justice Department Sues Texas to Block New Congressional Map

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Tracker of proposed congressional maps - December 8. | Image from fivethirtyeight

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The Biden administration sued the State of Texas on Monday to contest its new congressional map, which they claim violates the federal voting rights law by gerrymandering to limit “non-white voters’ representation.”

Attorney General Merrick Garland announced that the Justice Department found Texas’ new redistricting plans an attempt to “Deny or abridge the rights” of non-white voters, adding, “Discriminatory redistricting schemes are illegal.”

A federal court will have to rule on whether Texas will be permitted to use these maps for the 2022 elections. If the maps are not allowed, it could bring disorder to the primaries on March 1. Candidates have been filing since November 13, and the final filing deadline is next week on December 13.

After the 2020 Census, Texas gained two U.S. House Seats. Both newly added seats have districts drawn with white voting majorities, bringing the tally to twenty-three of thirty-eight congressional districts where white voters outnumber all others. The Census report that Texas’s white population was responsible for 4.7% of the state’s growth.

With the new congressional map, the number of US House districts with a black majority of eligible voters drops from one to zero. The black population growth accounted for 16.4% of Texas’s total population increase.

Similarly, the number of districts where Hispanic residents constitute the majority of voters fell from eight to seven. Hispanic people make up almost half of the 4 million new Texans in the last ten years.

The Biden administration is also challenging the Texas Legislature State House map. In the newly redrawn map, the number of districts where black residents are the majority of eligible voters drops from seven to six.

The number of districts in which Hispanics constitute the voter majority falls from thirty-three to thirty. The number of districts where white voters make up the majority increases from eighty-three to eighty-nine. The Texas Legislature has a total of 150 House Districts.

“Decade after decade, courts have found that Texas has enacted redistricting plans that deliberately dilute the voting strength of Latino and Black voters and that violate the Voting Rights Act,” commented Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta. “The Justice Department will not stand idly by in the face of unlawful attempts to restrict access to the ballot.”

The Department of Justice’s complaint alleges that, though non-white people account for 95% of Texas’ unprecedented growth since 2010, and “white Republicans” use their government control to craft districts that will keep them in power.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton denied such allegations in a written statement.

“The Department of Justice’s absurd lawsuit against our state is the Biden administration’s latest ploy to control Texas voters,” he said. “I am confident that our Legislature’s redistricting decisions will be proven lawful, and this preposterous attempt to sway democracy will fail.”

Meanwhile, Maria Teresa Kumar, CEO of Voto Latino, one of the groups trying to block the maps in court, argues Texas Republicans were attempting to “avoid adding districts that represent [the] growth” of the Latino population in Texas and therefore “silence Latino voices through diminishing the power of their voting, packing and dividing them into convoluted district lines that lessen their representation.”

Governor Abbott signed the maps on October 25.

A spokeswoman for the governor’s office, Renae Eze, told Dallas Morning News, “it’s no surprise that Democrats in Washington are attacking our state’s redistricting plans.”

She says Texas state government officials intend to “ensure Texans are represented fairly” and that Abbott’s office is confident courts will uphold the redistricting plans.

Adam Brandon, president of FreedomWorks, shared a similar sentiment.

“You cannot take the politics out of politics. But now that Republicans are getting good at redistricting and beating Democrats at their own game, Democrats are getting upset and want to drastically overhaul and federalize a process that has been left up to the state legislatures since the nation’s founding,” he said.

The redistricting process occurs every ten years after new census data is released. According to the Justice Department’s complaint, since 1970, at least one Texas redistricting plan per cycle has been found to violate the US Constitution or Voting Rights Act. Until 2013, Texas had to obtain preclearance from the Justice Department to make any changes that could impact voters’ rights.

In the absence of preclearance, voters, advocacy groups, or the Justice Department can only sue after new rules are implemented, meaning it can take years for courts to resolve disagreements.

Beto O’Rourke, former Democratic congressman from El Paso who is running for Texas governor in next year’s election, took the opportunity to tweet his distaste for the new maps.

He wrote, “This is what happens when those in power aren’t interested in serving the people they’re supposed to represent. Texas leaders would rather gerrymander election maps and hand pick their own voters than earn their place in power by listening and responding to the needs of Texans.”

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