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Politics

The U.S. Justice Department sues Texas over its new voting maps

Voting district maps on the desks of legislators
Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT
Proposed voting district maps sit on the desks of Texas legislators during the third special session Sept. 20.

The U.S. Justice Department has filed another lawsuit against Texas over voting rights — this time, over the state’s new political maps.

DOJ officials announced Monday that they filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in El Paso, alleging lawmakers violated the federal Voting Rights Act when they redrew the maps this year.

Texas' 2021 redistricting plans “deny or abridge the rights of Latino and Black voters to vote on account of their race, color, or membership in a language minority group," U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said during a press conference.

Garland said the DOJ has been monitoring redistricting efforts in states across the U.S., because this is the first year since the 1960s that these efforts are taking place without Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. That section of the law required states with a history of voting discrimination to clear their plans with the federal government before implementing them. In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the provision, effectively weakening the civil rights-era law.

“The Department’s career voting law experts have accessed Texas’ new redistricting plans and have determined that they include districts that violate the Voting Rights Act,” Garland said.

Vanita Gupta, the U.S. associate attorney general, said the DOJ reached this decision “after a careful assessment of the facts and the law.”

She said officials found many new districts were drawn with the intent to discriminate and were enacted through a rushed process that did not allow for adequate public input.

Gupta said despite the fact that 95% of Texas’ population growth in the past decade was among racial minorities, state lawmakers drew maps that denied more voting power to those communities.

Officials said in the lawsuit that state lawmakers “intentionally eliminated a Latino electoral opportunity” in West Texas and in the Houston area. They also allege lawmakers “surgically excised minority communities from the core of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex” by lumping them in a district with white voters in rural counties that are more than 100 miles away.

“Our investigation determined that Texas’ redistricting plans will dilute the increased minority voting strength that should have developed from these significant demographic shifts,” Gupta said.

Several other legal challenges have been filed against the state's new political maps.

State Rep. Chris Turner, the Texas House Democratic caucus chair, said in a statement that his party's House members applaud the DOJ.

“As House Democrats argued throughout the legislative process, Texas' population growth … demands that the Legislature draw maps that give Black, Hispanic and Asian-American voters more, not fewer, opportunities to elect the candidates of their choice,” he said. “We are hopeful this challenge by the DOJ, along with the several other suits already filed, will ultimately result in fair and representative districts for all Texans.”

Just last month, the DOJ filed a lawsuit over the state's new voting law, which federal officials argue makes it harder for some Texans to vote.

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