Politics

U.S. Court Invalidates Three Texas Congressional Districts

Court orders districts to be redrawn

A U.S. court in Texas invalidated Rep. Will Hurd’s district. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

A federal three-judge panel in San Antonio invalidated three Texas congressional districts for violating the Voting Rights Act or the Constitution in a decision late Friday night. 

The districts, drawn by the Texas legislature in 2011, are GOP Rep. Will Hurd’s 23rd District, GOP Rep. Blake Farenthold’s 27th District and Democratic Rep. Lloyd Doggett’s 35th District. 

In Hurd’s district, which has been one of the most competitive districts around the country, the court ruled that the legislature drew the lines with “the intent and effect of diluting Latino voter opportunity.” Hurd’s district spans much of Texas’ border with Mexico.

As for Doggett’s district, the court said the legislature used race to draw the lines, packing Democrats into the district and thereby diluting their voting power elsewhere. The court also ruled that the legislature pushed Hispanics into the district in an effort to defeat Doggett if a Hispanic candidate challenged him. 

“The political motive does not excuse or negate that use of race; rather, the use of race is ultimately problematic for precisely that reason — because of their political motive, they intentionally drew a district based on race in a location where such use of race was not justified by a compelling state interest,” the court ruled. 

The court also raised questions about the 26th District, held by Republican Michael C. Burgess, for “packing and cracking” voters. But the court did not invalidate the district because its lines were drawn under a 2013 map, not the same 2011 map that prompted the legal challenges to the other three districts. 

The decision, long delayed after a trail that ended in August 2014, will likely prompt the three districts to be redrawn. The Texas legislature, which is controlled by Republicans, would likely be in charge of redrawing the lines of the three districts. But changes to any district lines typically necessitate changes to the entire map.

And the process could be slowed or halted by subsequent legal challenges. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, for example, could appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court and ask for the lower court’s decision to be put on hold. 

The panel ruled against the districts 2-1, with one dissent. “The Department of Justice has overplayed its hand and, in the process, has lost credibility,” wrote the dissenting judge. 

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez heralded the ruling Saturday morning. “The federal court further confirmed what we’ve known all along: Texas intentionally discriminated to disenfranchise Latino and African American voters,” he said in a statement.

“This is unacceptable and that is why I led the effort at the Justice Department to challenge these maps. But our work here is far from over,” Perez added. 

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