Courts: Texas discriminated against minority voters

Associated Press | 9/12/2012, 11:41 a.m.

2. Lawmakers widened the gap between the proportion of the population that is Latino and African Americans and the proportion of districts that are minority-controlled.

In the years leading up to the 2010 census, Texas’ population increased by 4.3 million people, 65 percent of them Latino. As a result, Texas gained four seats in Congress.

In their decision, the federal judges in the redistricting case noted that minority voters have no constitutional right to proportional representation. But the Voting Rights Act says states can’t weaken the electoral power of minorities. So, the judges reasoned, if there is already a gap between the minority population of a state and its political representation, states can’t let that gap grow wider.

In Texas, the judges observed, African Americans and Latinos were already underrepresented in Congress. Given the number of voting-age minority citizens in the state, Texas’s old maps should have had roughly 13 congressional seats that represent districts in which minorities have a strong voice, the judges calculated. Instead, Texas only had 10 such districts.

Instead of narrowing this “representation gap” as the minority population grew, the legislature increased it.

With four additional congressional seats, Texas should now have 14 districts in which minorities have the ability to elect their chosen representatives, the judges concluded. But the state’s new plan still included just 10 minority districts.

3. Texas removed economic centers and district offices from African American and Latino districts, while giving white Republicans perks.

In defending its new maps, Texas argued that the districts had been shaped to help Republicans and hurt Democrats — a perfectly legal tactic — and that race had been irrelevant to its choices.

The Associated Press reported that the state’s lawyer had argued before the court that “‘a decision based on partisanship’ is not based on race, even if it results in minority voters having less political influence.”

The judges noted that while there was no “direct evidence” that “discriminatory purpose” animated the new maps, circumstantial evidence indicated the design of the new congressional districts “was motivated, at least in part, by discriminatory intent.”

Texas’ gerrymandering was not limited to manipulating the kinds of voters within districts. By reshaping a district, map-drawers can determine whether key businesses, schools and tourist attractions are removed from a district or added to another.

The redistricting opinion dwelled at length on “unchallenged evidence that the legislature removed the economic guts from Black ability districts.”

African American Rep. Al Green testified that the “economic engines” of his district — including a medical center, a university, and the Reliant Park sports mega-complex that includes the Astrodome — were removed. African American Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson’s district lost a sports center and an arts district, while Latino Rep. Charles A. Gonzalez from San Antonio said that both a convention center and the Alamo were drawn out of his district.

These three members of Congress, and African American Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, all Democrats, also testified that their district offices were drawn out of their districts — a detriment because constituents want easily accessible district offices.