Attorney General Merrick Garland announced Monday that the Department of Justice has sued to block Texas’ updated congressional and state House maps, alleging that the districts redrawn after the 2020 census disenfranchise minorities in violation of the Voting Rights Act.
The suit, filed in federal court, alleges that the state of Texas is “refusing to recognize the State’s growing minority electorate.” It asks the court to stop the state from holding elections under the new maps and to temporarily redraw Texas’ congressional and state House districts.
It is the latest voting rights lawsuit from the Department of Justice, which separately sued Texas last month over the recently-implemented new election law in the state, which adds further restrictions to mail voting in the state and banned voting practices piloted by large Democratic-leaning counties during the pandemic, like drive-through and 24-hour early voting,
“Texas’s 2021 redistricting plans were enacted through a rushed process with minimal opportunity for public comment, without any expert testimony and with an overall disregard for the massive minority population growth in Texas over the last decade,” Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta, the third-ranking DOJ official, said at the department’s Monday press conference.
Spokespeople for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Texas Secretary of State John Scott, who is also named in the suit, did not immediately comment on the lawsuit.
The suit notes that Texas’ past redistricting maps have repeatedly been smacked down by courts over the last several decades. But Garland acknowledged during the press conference that this case presents more challenges than past decades because the so-called “preclearance” requirement, which mandated that jurisdictions with a history of discriminatory election laws get changes approved by either the Department of Justice or a D.C.-based federal court, was gutted by a mid-2010s Supreme Court decision.
“There are two problems: One, it means that we don’t get a chance to look at these things before they go into effect, which is a very significant aspect of our tools, and instead requires that we challenge every case individually,” Garland said. “And second, it flips the burden of proof.”
Texas’ new congressional maps, passed through the Republican-controlled legislature and signed by Abbott, shored up Republican dominance of the delegation. The department noted in the lawsuit that Texas’s congressional delegation grew from 36 to 38 districts, thanks to growth of the state’s minority communities, but that “Texas designed the two new seats to have Anglo voting majorities.”
It took particular issue with the 23rd Congressional District, a sprawling West Texas district now held by GOP Rep. Tony Gonzales, accusing Texas map-makers of intentionally eliminating its status as a district where Latinos could elect their candidate of choice.
The suit also noted the lack of a new Latino opportunity seat in Houston’s Harris County and accused the legislature 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.”
GOP mapmakers created three new deep blue seats — in Austin, Houston and Dallas — to accommodate a growing number of left-leaning voters and keep them from overwhelming the red-leaning districts surrounding them. None of those seats have a Latino majority.