At a trial that began in federal court this week in San Antonio, GOP presidential contender and Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) faces allegations of intentionally distorting a congressional redistricting map to dilute the power of the state’s burgeoning Latino vote. The state legislature’s Mexican American Legislative Caucus and other plaintiffs are accusing Perry and Republican lawmakers of warping the map to prevent Latinos from winning office:
The state has a four-decade history of violating minority voting rights that has required court intervention, Jose Garza, a lawyer for the Mexican American Legislative Caucus of the state Legislature, said today in federal court in San Antonio.
“Whether the Legislature was controlled by Democrats or Republicans, it didn’t matter,” Garza told a three-judge panel. “Redistricting was always done on the backs of minorities.” […]
The majority-Republican Legislature redrew congressional district maps after the state grew enough to gain four seats in Congress, adding almost 4.3 million residents since 2000 according to the 2010 census. […]
If the new map is approved, “the Legislature’s blatant racial gerrymandering will effectively prevent minority voters from having any meaningful impact on congressional elections for the next 10 years,” lawyers representing Travis County and Austin said in court papers.
Perry signed the bill with the electoral map in June, and a coalition of lawmakers, civil rights groups and county governments are suing to block it from taking effect. They accuse Perry and other Republicans of using “gerrymandering techniques such as packing and cracking of minority communities” to reduce the chances Latino candidates have of winning new seats.
Voting rights organizations point to the fact that GOP lawmakers drew very uneven, bizarrely-shaped districts as proof that the map was politically motivated. Luis Vera, a lawyer for the League of United Latin American Citizens, described them as “ridiculous shapes, with lines weaving in and out of neighborhoods and splitting hundreds of precincts throughout the state, predominantly in Latino and minority communities.”
Unfortunately, the conservatives on the Supreme Court largely abdicated any responsibility for preventing partisan legislatures from drawing district lines purely to benefit their party, so a direct challenge to the GOP’s gerrymandering is doomed to failure. Nevertheless, the justices have yet to completely eviscerate the Voting Rights Act’s protections ensuring that minorities do not lose their ability to participate in representative democracy.
If the courts strike down these newest district lines, it won’t be the first time they find fault with a redistricting plan Perry signed. In 2003, Republicans led by then-Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX) redrew election districts to engineer a Republican majority. Although congressional maps are typically redrawn after the census every 10 years, Democrats maintained their majority in the Texas legislature in 2000. So during the 2003 legislative session, with DeLay and Perry’s encouragement, the Republican majority began an unusual off-cycle redistricting.
In December 2005, “Justice Department lawyers concluded that the landmark Texas congressional redistricting plan spearheaded by Rep. Tom DeLay violated the Voting Rights Act.” The Supreme Court eventually struck down one of the Delay/Perry districts in 2006, although it left much of the map intact. Once this map went into effect, the Texas delegation shifted from a 17–15 Democratic edge to a 21–11 edge for Republicans.