- By Chuck Lindell American-Statesman Staff
A federal court ruled Thursday that nine Texas House districts were created earlier this decade to intentionally discriminate against minority voters and must be redrawn.
The ruling came nine days after the same court came to the same conclusion about two congressional districts and one day after a separate federal court tossed out the Texas voter ID law, ruling that it too had been drafted to intentionally discriminate against Latino and African-American voters.
The spate of rulings was “a most welcome development,” said Thomas Saenz, president of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, one of the groups that sued over the House districts.
“The state of Texas needs to move on with fixing permanently the rights violations in which it has regularly — as confirmed by this court’s recent rulings — and continually engaged. The people of Texas need to have confidence that the electoral system … is untainted by intentional discrimination,” Saenz said.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton blasted the latest ruling, saying the Legislature largely adopted a map that the three-judge San Antonio-based court had drawn in 2012 to cure discrimination claims raised in 2011.
“The judges held that maps they themselves adopted violate the law. Needless to say, we will appeal,” Paxton said.
Also Thursday, Paxton filed a motion asking U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos to delay her ruling on the Texas voter ID law from taking effect while the state asks the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn her decision.
Ramos ruled Wednesday that Texas couldn’t enforce its voter ID law because it was drafted by Republicans in 2011 to discriminate against Latino and African-American voters who were less likely to have the law’s acceptable identification and who were more likely to support Democrats.
Ramos also blocked Texas from enforcing changes to the law that the Legislature adopted in May, saying that although the revision gave voters more options for presenting identification at the ballot box, it wasn’t enough to cure the discriminatory intent behind the law.
Paxton criticized the ruling as “an example of one judge choosing to create the law based on their own preferences rather than apply the law justly and fairly.”
“The voting process in Texas demands the highest level of integrity. I’m confident the 5th Circuit will agree with the U.S. Department of Justice, which said it is satisfied the amended Texas voter ID law has no discriminatory purpose or effect,” Paxton said in a statement.
In Thursday’s ruling, the three-judge panel gave Paxton three business days to determine if Gov. Greg Abbott will convene the Legislature in a special session to redraw nine House districts in Bell, Dallas, Nueces and Tarrant counties.
If not, the court panel will hold a hearing Sept. 6 to begin drawing new districts, the court order said.
The court gave a similar time limit in last week’s order to redraw two congressional districts, scheduling a Sept. 5 hearing to begin drawing new maps for a congressional district based in Travis County and another that includes southern Bastrop County.
Abbott declined to call a special session, and Paxton moved to appeal that ruling as well.
In Thursday’s ruling, the court found violations in four counties:
• In Bell County, the court found improper racial gerrymandering and intentional discrimination, ruling that the minority population was intentionally split to ensure Anglo Republicans would retain voting strength in Districts 54 and 55.
“Diluting the minority vote (ensured) Anglo control over both remaining districts,” the court said.
• In Dallas County, the court said race was improperly used to set boundaries, diluting Latino voting strength in western Dallas County while making Districts 103 and 104 more Hispanic and District 105 “more Anglo to protect an Anglo Republican.”
• In Nueces County, the Legislature drew one safe district for Hispanic candidates and one safe district for incumbent Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, but the court said both were improperly racially gerrymandered to dilute Latino voting strength and to protect Hunter.
• In Tarrant County, the court said Districts 90 and 93 were improperly racially gerrymandered, with 90 drawn “to undermine Latino opportunity” and 93 designed to shore up the size of it Anglo population.
The court rejected arguments that districts had to be redrawn in Bexar, Harris, Fort Bend and Ector counties.