On December 6, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced it is suing Texas over its newly drawn state legislature and congressional maps. The Biden Administration claims that Texas lawmakers, who control the state’s redistricting process, discriminated against Black and Latino voters, purposefully diluting their voting power. In their suit, the DOJ argues that this discrimination is unconstitutional and violates the Voting Rights Act and has asked the federal court to prohibit any elections from taking place under the new maps.
This redistricting process marks the first time in Texas in nearly 50 years where lawmakers drew the maps without federal oversight (otherwise known as “preclearance”). In announcing the suit, Attorney General Merrick Garland called for Congress to restore the provision of the Voting Rights Act requiring some states to obtain preclearance of their maps, a provision the Supreme Court gutted in 2013. The redistricting process, which follows the Census every decade, has generated much controversy in Texas, where 95% of the population growth was among people of color and half of the state’s new residents were Hispanic. According to political analysis, the new maps effectively give Texas Republicans control of 24 of the state’s 38 congressional seats and protect their majorities in the state legislature.
Texas gained two new congressional districts during the reapportionment, but critics say the maps fail to reflect the significant growth in minority communities. State lawmakers drew both new districts and two previously majority-minority districts to have a majority of White voters. Specifically, the Justice Department has taken issue with the redrawing of Texas’ 23rd congressional district in west Texas and the several districts splitting the Dallas-Fort Worth area. The DOJ is also challenging the redrawn map for state legislature races, where the number of majority-Hispanic districts drops from 33 to 30.
The crux of the argument revolves around whether or not race is a factor in redistricting decisions. The Supreme Court functionally allows partisan gerrymandering but forbids it based on race (Shaw v. Reno&Miller v. Johnson). Democrats assert that the Texas Legislature had an explicit racial motivation in drawing the new maps, while Republicans claim they only analyzed political affiliation data.
Like other Republican-controlled state legislatures across the country, the Texas Legislature has used the redistricting process to systematically undermine voters of color and protect their own electoral positions. Republicans are gerrymandering to avoid the consequences of their unpopular policies. Instead of letting voters choose their representatives, Republicans want to choose their voters. These efforts are blatantly racist and undemocratic. The Biden Administration and congressional Democrats are dedicated to protecting voting rights and will use all available avenues to do so.
Democrats have claimed that Texas is redrawing districts based on race. This is a claim Democrats make when they dislike redrawn districts that favor Republicans. However, Democrats do not complain when they redraw the districts for their own benefit.
“The Department of Justice’s absurd lawsuit against our state is the Biden Administration’s latest ploy to control Texas voters. […] our legislature’s redistricting decisions will be proven lawful, and this preposterous attempt to sway democracy will fail.” - Texas AG Ken Paxton