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Texas Congressional District Maps Redrawn by GOP to Lessen Democrat and Latino Influence, Lawsuit Claims

First Posted: Jul 15, 2014 04:35 PM EDT
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Congressional districts redrawn by the Republican-dominated Texas Legislature were made to weaken Democrats in the state and not to affect black and Latino voters, according to Texas' special litigation chief Patrick Sweeten. The redistricting of the Texas election maps were to "reflect political goals, partisan goals and sometimes unclear guidance in the law" and "not racial animus," he said.

The Department of Justice and the Obama administration claimed the 2011 redrawing of the state's congressional districts, supported by Gov. Rick Perry, were meant to discriminate against minority voters.

"We're here because the State of Texas, as it has in every redistricting cycle since 1970, adopted redistricting plans that discriminate against its minority citizens," Justice Department attorney Bryan Sells said to three federal San Antonio judges on Monday. "We have evidence that vote dilution was anything but accidental."

The lawsuit over the Texas congressional election map is the first voting rights trial following the U.S. Supreme Court's ruled the 1965 Voting Rights Act doesn't have to be enacted across 14 specific states, including Texas. Following the Supreme Court's 2013 decision, Texas passed voter-identification rules, which was a measure a Washington, D.C., court originally blocked on discrimination claims.

According to census data, Texas saw an influx of more than 4 million new residents between 2000 and 2010, which 90 percent were Hispanic and African American. With the added population, Texas has 26.5 million residents and gained four congressional seats. The lawmakers, however, mapped 10 percent fewer districts.

After the congressional maps were redrawn in 2011, a special voting rights panel consisting of three federal judges ruled the maps were biased. The new congressional maps were temporarily blocked pending on the trial. The three federal judges constructed a new map based on census data prior to the 2012 elections. Texas officials issued an emergency appeal, and the Supreme Court found the three federal judges' new map unnecessary. The three judges amended their map by specifically working on districts they viewed as most biased.

Texas officials defended the new 2011 congressional district maps as the redrawing for the purpose to benefit a political candidate is allowed under election laws.

If the Department of Justice wins the case, Texas could be forced to notify the Justice Department or a federal court about any future changes in the state's electoral matters for approval.

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