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Politics

Court Throws Out Texas Congressional Map

August 28, 2012
The 27th, won in an upset by GOP Rep. Blake Farenthold in 2010, was majority-Hispanic but is now majority-white, and the court concluded fairly quickly - in the space of two paragraphs - that the district "will no longer perform for minority voters." In the 23rd District, which has been the site of court battles in the past, the tinkering was less obvious. Although the newly drawn version of the 23rd District remained just as Hispanic as the previous version, "the mapdrawers consciously replaced many of the district's active Hispanic voters with low-turnout voters" in order to increase the influence of the district's white citizens, the judges wrote. "In other words, they sought to reduce Hispanic voters' ability to elect" candidates of choice "without making it look like anything" had changed, the judges continued. The court cited emails in which Texas state House Speaker Joe Straus asks the legislature's map-drawer to "leave Spanish Surname [Registered Voter] and [turnout numbers] the lowest" in order to help protect freshman Republican Rep. Quico Canseco. Texas argued in dissent that the 23rd and 25th Districts were never Hispanic ability districts to begin with, in which case the state would have gained a seat of that type. But a federal district court redrew the 23rd District as a Hispanic "opportunity" district in 2006, and the D.C. court found that Hispanic voters in the district had indeed taken advantage of that opportunity over the past six years. Texas filed suit in U.S. District Court to have its new election maps pre-cleared under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires some jurisdictions to prove that their election laws "have neither the effect nor the purpose of abridging minority voting rights." In addition to the new congressional map, the court also found that new maps for the state House and state Senate each violated one provision of that statute. This year's elections are proceeding under different, interim maps developed by a separate federal court in San Antonio. Those interim maps are not directly affected by the decision, though Texas redistricting expert Michael Li says the San Antonio court could use the D.C. ruling as an impetus to adjust the interim maps between now and Election Day, which is just 10 weeks away. "They would have to discuss what to do since the primaries already happened and how to do that," Li said, noting the state would argue that any changes could be pushed to the next election cycle. "But, without any inside information, I would not be surprised to see changes to the interim maps." Looking forward, unless Texas is successful in appealing the D.C. court's decision, the state will be forced to once again redraw their election maps prior to the 2014 midterm elections. The court noted that it is the fourth time in as many decennial redistricting cycles that Texas has been taken to court over their new maps -- and they have lost in court each time.
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