Election Law

DOJ suit over redrawn voting districts in Texas 'puts other states on notice'

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The U.S. Department of Justice sued Texas on Monday to block redrawn voting districts for congressional and statehouse elections.

The Dec. 6 lawsuit alleges violations of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which bans voting procedures that deny the right to vote on account of race, color or membership in a language minority group.

A press release is here; the Washington Post, Law.com, Reuters, the New York Times and Politico have coverage.

The New York Times said the lawsuit “puts other states on notice as they redraw their voting districts, a process that occurs once a decade.”

The 2020 census found that non-Latino white Texans make up less than 40% of the state’s population, the suit said. The state population increased by nearly 4 million residents between 2010 and 2020, and the minority population represents 95% of the growth.

Soon after release of the census data, Texas adopted redistricting plans “through an extraordinarily rapid and opaque legislative process” that refused to recognize the growing minority electorate, according to the suit.

“Texas also intentionally eliminated a Latino electoral opportunity in Congressional District 23, a West Texas district where courts had identified Voting Rights Act violations during the previous two redistricting cycles,” the suit said. “It failed to draw a seat encompassing the growing Latino electorate in Harris County. And it 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, placing them in a congressional district where they would lack equal electoral opportunity.

“Texas also eliminated Latino electoral opportunities in the statehouse plan through manipulation or outright elimination of districts where Latino communities previously had elected their preferred candidates.”

On Twitter, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton called the DOJ’s lawsuit “absurd” and a “ploy to control Texas voters.”

The DOJ filed a separate suit against Texas last month over a voting law that restricts the kind of assistance that can be provided in a voting booth and requires voters to use the same identification number on their mail-in ballots as on their voter registration application. The suit alleges violations of a Voting Rights Act section regarding voter assistance and a Civil Rights Act section that bars denial of the right to vote based on immaterial errors or omissions in paperwork.

The DOJ has also challenged new voting procedures in Georgia in a suit that alleges violations of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

Law.com said Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act “has become the Justice Department’s main tool to crack down on state voting actions deemed discriminatory.” A 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision “neutered” a different section of the law that had required states with a history of race discrimination in voting to obtain preclearance for significant voting changes, according to the New York Times. The case was Shelby County v. Holder.

In a press conference, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said there are two problems since Section 5 preclearance was gutted, according to Politico.

“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.”

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