A rally for voting rights outside the Texas State Capitol, July 2021 (Eric Gay/AP)
The US Justice Department is suing Texas over a plan to redraw districts, which could diminish the ballots of Black and Latino voters.
Attorney General Merrick Garland said Monday that the redistricting plan violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, under which voters cannot be denied equal access to the political process based on their race or ethnicity.
Many observers consider the Texas plan, adopted by the Republican-controlled legislature in October, as gerrymandering — the manipulation of district boundaries to favor one party.
In early November, the Justice Department sued Texas over its law restricting voting rights, including for those who do not speak English, people with disabilities, older voters, and those who live outside the US.
Texas is one of a series of states with Republican legislatures and governors who have passed the restrictions after the 2020 election in which President Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump.
But the latest Department lawsuit highlights another process to tilt states into the long-term control of one party, in the redistricting process that occurs once each decade. This year 17 states have completed Congressional maps this year, and more are expected to do so before spring.
In Texas, some districts with a significant proportion of minority voters have been eliminated. Other voters have been moved into rural, predominantly white areas. In one case, some voters in Dallas will cast ballots for a district whose center is 100 miles away.
Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta summarized that the Texas plan’s “discriminatory intent…denies Black and Latino voters the equal opportunity to participate in the election process”.
Texas’s Trumpist and Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton used Twitter to denounce the Justice Department’s lawsuit:
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 (@TXAG) December 6, 2021
The lawsuit is unlikely to have any effect before mid-term Congressional next November. In the last decade, courts took years to decide litigation over Republican-led redistricting in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and other states, ordering revision of the boundaries.
The Justice Department’s task has been made more difficult by the Supreme Court’s weakening of the 1965 Voting Rights Act in recent years. Unlike in previous decades, states do not have to submit voting maps for prior clearance by the Department.
In 2019, the Supreme Court weakened the legal grounds for challenging voter maps. The conservative majority ruled that partisan gerrymandering cannot be challenged in federal court.
In July, in a case involving Arizona’s restrictions on voting rights, the Supreme Court voted 6-3 to further limit the Voting Rights Act. The six conservative justices ruled that the Act can only block restrictions when they effectively prevent minority voters from casting a ballot at all.
The Supreme Court has also removed the capacity to sue states under the Voting Rights Act in federal court. Instead, the Justice Department’s lawsuit has been filed in El Paso, Texas, with any appeal would going through a 5th Circuit dominated by conservative judges.