A panel of federal judges ruled Thursday that Texas’ Republican-dominated legislature intentionally redrew its electoral districts to limit the power of Latino voters, making it the third Texas voting law courts have found to be discriminatory since March 10.
That was when a U.S. District Court found congressional districts were intentionally drawn in order to discriminate against black and Latino voters. A few weeks later, a federal judge ruled that Texas’ controversial voter ID law was also intentionally discriminatory. Thursday’s ruling found signs of racial gerrymandering in areas around Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Corpus Christi, El Paso, Fort Worth, and elsewhere.
All three of the laws were signed in 2011 by then-Gov. Rick Perry.
“Yet another federal court finding that the state of Texas intentionally sought to restrict the voting rights of Latinos demonstrates that Congress should act to revitalize the federal Voting Rights Act,” Thomas A. Saenz, the president and general council of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, which represented a group suing the state, said in a statement Thursday. “An effective pre-clearance system would have saved the state’s taxpayers much time and money in reviewing the 2011 redistricting plan.”
The pre-clearance system is part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that requires certain states and counties with a history of racial discrimination to obtain federal approval before changing their voting laws.
When a 2013 Supreme Court decision effectively gutted the Voting Rights Act, states already under pre-clearance, including Texas, were no longer required to seek that federal approval. (The Court’s decisions also effectively allowed the Texas redistricting and voter ID laws, which had all been tied up in court, to go into effect.) But the Court allowed for the possibility that states could be placed back under federal oversight if contemporary discrimination was found.
Even in light of the last month of rulings in Texas, there’s no indication that’s in danger of happening. In February, the DOJ retracted its long-standing position that Texas’ voter ID law was intentionally discriminatory.
In a statement issued in response to the court’s Thursday decision, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said that he “respectfully disagree[s]” with the court’s ruling.
“We are confident we will ultimately prevail in this case,” he said, referring to the near-certainty that the state will appeal.
And in a scathing dissent to Thursday’s split 2-1 ruling, Judge Jerry Smith wrote that the majority’s decision defied logic. “The majority’s findings are fatally infected, from start to finish, with the misunderstanding that race, rather than partisan advantage, was the main reason for the congressional and state House districts drawn in 2011.”