Recently leaked documents could impact an ongoing federal lawsuit challenging Texas' redistricting efforts.
On Thursday, The New York Times published documents that belonged to Thomas Hofeller, a prominent Republican strategist who died last summer. Among his documents was a study that looked into the potential impact of including a citizenship question in the 2020 U.S. Census – and the effect that question could have on the voting power of Latinos in Texas.
"[The study] really is just the smoking gun of something we already all knew was going on," said Renea Hicks, an Austin attorney in the redistricting case against Texas. "The dominant forces in today’s Republican Party are working hard … against Latinos."
Hofeller’s study was included in an affidavit filed this week in an ongoing legal challenge to the Trump administration’s inclusion of the citizenship question in the Census. Among other things, the study analyzed the specific impact the question would have on Texas House districts.
One of Hofeller’s conclusions was that drawing districts based on the population or U.S. citizens – and not the total population – "would be advantageous to Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites."
"I was floored," said attorney Jose Garza, "because we have been dealing with all of these issues."
Garza is part of the legal team that argued Texas lawmakers intentionally discriminated against racial minorities, including Latinos, when they drew up congressional and state legislative districts in 2011. After a ruling against those maps in 2011, a federal court ordered the state to redraw the maps in 2013.
Garza said Hofeller’s report shows there is an ongoing effort among Republicans to curb the political influence of Latinos.
"All of this was aimed at the growing strength of Latinos and the voting power that they have," Garza said.
Federal courts have sided with plaintiffs in the Texas case in recent years. As a result, the U.S. District of San Antonio is now considering whether Texas lawmakers should have to clear redistricting plans in 2021 with a federal court through a provision of the Voting Rights Act known as "bail-in."
Under that provision, a county or city that is found to have intentionally discriminated against voters would have to clear any political maps or voting or election laws with a federal court.
The legal teams representing plaintiffs in the 2011 Texas redistricting case are asking that a federal court, in their case, have preclearance apply to statewide redistricting plans in 2021.
Hicks said he thinks Hofeller’s study "plays directly into that issue," which is currently before the court in San Antonio.
"This just adds to the reasons – it’s another weight on the side of the scale that says they should 'bail-in' Texas with respect to redistricting," Hicks said. "It’s not needed in order for us to establish our case, but it helps. It’s certainly a very palpable example of what will happen if there’s not a preclearance requirement."
Nina Perales, the vice president of litigation for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), said she wasn’t "particularly surprised," about Hofeller's study because her group has also been researching the impact citizen-centered political maps would have on Latino political power in Texas.
MALDEF's study, Perales said, showed those changes would have rolled the political power of Latinos in the Texas Senate map, in particular, "back about three decades."
Perales said the stakes for changes to how Texas lawmakers draw the next set of maps is clear –and Hofeller’s study is just another example.
"We are definitely considering putting this before the three judge panel in the Texas redistricting case," Perales said.
Attorneys are not entirely sure what is legally possible at the moment, because both sides already argued their case on the bail-in question before a judge earlier this month.
"We are talking about that," Garza said. "That’s something that we haven’t nailed down yet."