Federal Court Strikes Down Discriminatory Texas Congressional District Lines

Federal Court Strikes Down Discriminatory Texas Congressional District Lines

The term gerrymandering to describe the political manipulation of electoral districts may date to 1812, when Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry approved a map that included an oddly shaped district said to look like a salamander.

The ruling indicates that Texas Republicans intentionally designed three districts to work in their favor by reducing minority voters.

In a scathing dissent, U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Jerry Smith blasted Department of Justice attorneys' "arrogance and condescension", accusing them of "exhibiting contempt for Texas and its representatives". If appealed, the case might be bound for the Supreme Court. Districts 23 and 27, represented by Republicans Will Hurd and Blake Farenthold, respectively, were also invalidated by the decision.

In the decision announced late on Friday, U.S. District Judges Xavier Rodriguez and Orlando Garcia in San Antonio found that the districts' shapes diluted minority voters' power, either by splitting communities into different districts or concentrating minorities in a single area to limit their sway.

Texas Republicans did not immediately react to the ruling.

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"In addition, the evidence shows that mapdrawers were more than just "aware of" race; they often referred to race in discussing the drawing of the districts, they paid close attention to the racial makeup of all districts, and they engaged in discussions about how to gain political advantage by disadvantaging Hispanic voters through the use of the 'nudge factor, '" the 166-page majority opinion states.

The ruling comes as the Lone State's Latino population grew, adding four additional congressional seats after the 2010 Census.

The decision could have far-reaching consequences for Texas politics and elections.

The biggest effect of the ruling, Hasen says, is that it provides the Justice Department with the pretext to submit Texas to preclearance under the VRA, through which the federal government would have to approve changes to Texas voting laws before they take effect. The court concluded that in the southwestern 23rd Congressional district [Govtrack backgrounder] alone, boundary lines were drawn to move more than 600,000 voters between districts, thereby fracturing a heavily Latino county to deliberately lessen minority voter turnout rates.

"It was obvious, from the start, that the DoJ attorneys viewed state officials and the legislative majority and their staffs as a bunch of backwoods hayseed bigots who bemoan the abolition of the poll tax and pine for the days of literacy tests and lynchings", Smith wrote. But it has outlived its usefulness, as the Supreme Court recognized in 2013.

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