Justice Department sues Texas over redistricting maps, claiming Voting Rights Act violations

The Justice Department on Monday sued Texas over its new redistricting maps, arguing the new congressional and state legislative districts were drawn to dilute the electoral representation of Latino and Black voters in violation of the Voting Rights Act. This is at least the fifth lawsuit challenging the new districts, drawn by Republicans in the state Legislature, on racial discrimination grounds.

The Justice Department noted that while 95 percent of the population growth that allowed Texas to claim two new congressional districts came from Latino, Black, and Asian residents — half of the state's 4 million new inhabitants over the past decade were Hispanic — the number of Latino-majority districts shrank from eight to seven, and the number of majority Black districts withered from one to zero.

"Texas has had to defend its maps in court after every redistricting process since the Voting Rights Act took effect in 1965," The Associated Press reports. "But this will be the first time since a 2013 U.S. Supreme Court ruling gutted a provision of the Voting Rights Act that had required Texas and other states with a history of racial discrimination to have the Justice Department approve the maps before they went into effect," a process known as preclearance.

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"Were that preclearance tool still in place, we would likely not be here today announcing this complaint," Attorney General Merrick Garland said in announcing the lawsuit, filed in federal court in the Western District of Texas.

"Republicans redrew congressional districts in the area with almost surgical precision, stranding urban and suburban voters of color in vast rural districts," The Texas Tribune reports. "Throughout the redistricting process, Republicans argued their maps comply with federal laws protecting voters of color from discrimination, though they declined to offer specifics about their legal analysis."

A spokeswoman for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R), Renae Eze, said the governor is "confident that Texas' redistricting plans will be upheld by the courts" from interference by "Democrats in Washington." Former Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D), who is challenging Abbott next year, tweeted that "Texas leaders would rather gerrymander election maps and hand pick their own voters than earn their place in power by listening and responding to the needs of Texans."

The Supreme Court gave the green light to partisan gerrymandering in 2019, but racial gerrymandering still violates federal law.

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