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Activists take part in a voting rights protest in front of the White House on November 17, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

DOJ Lawsuit Challenging Texas Gerrymandering Met With Applause, Calls for Action in Congress

"While we are grateful for the involvement of the federal government, what we need to stop the five-decade cycle of having to take legal action every 10 years is for Congress to pass the Freedom to Vote Act," said one advocate.

Julia Conley

Following the lead of a number of voters and rights organizations, the U.S. Department of Justice on Monday filed a legal challenge to Texas' newly drawn, "discriminatory" congressional district map, while noting that action by federal lawmakers could keep states from imposing racial and partisan gerrymandering on constituents.

The DOJ filed its lawsuit under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which bars legislators from denying equal access to voting on the basis of voters' race or ethnicity.

"Our investigation determined that Texas' redistricting plans will dilute the increased minority voting strength that should have developed from these significant demographic shifts."

An investigation conducted by the department, said U.S. Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta, found that Texas Republicans demonstrated an "overall disregard for the massive minority population growth" in the state over the past decade.

The new congressional district boundaries were approved by the Republican-led state Legislature in October, sparking outrage among civil rights groups.

Although population growth in Texas over the past decade has mainly been concentrated among racial minorities including Hispanic and Black voters, according to the census data released last year, the new map does not create any districts where people from these groups make up more than 50% of voters.

According to the census taken last year, 95% of Texas' population growth was made up of racial minorities—with the state gaining 16 new people of color for every new white resident—and Hispanic people accounted for more than 50% of the growth.

"Our investigation determined that Texas' redistricting plans will dilute the increased minority voting strength that should have developed from these significant demographic shifts," Gupta said.

Advocacy groups including Public Citizen said the DOJ's lawsuit is "important," but others noted that the U.S. Congress can and should act to make such legal challenges unnecessary by passing legislation—such as the Freedom to Vote Act, a compromise bill—to ban partisan and racial gerrymandering.

"While we are grateful for the involvement of the federal government, what we need to stop the five-decade cycle of having to take legal action every 10 years is for Congress to pass the Freedom to Vote Act," said Anthony Gutierrez, executive director of Common Cause Texas. "We are pleading for the U.S. Senate to not waste another minute before passing this legislation and putting an end to the extreme gerrymandering underway in many states right now."

Jordan Zakarin of progressive media organization More Perfect Union warned that the Biden administration's legal action could be used as an excuse by Democrats in Congress—who advocates have pushed this year to end the use of the filibuster and pass legislation to protect reproductive rights, voting rights, and support working families—to take no immediate action to protect voters from gerrymandering.

The DOJ lawsuit particularly challenges the drawing of the state's 23rd District in southwest Texas, which includes San Antonio and the area outside El Paso. The Biden administration says the boundaries were configured to "eliminate a Latino electoral opportunity" in a majority-Latino area.

"Texas added two million Latinos to its population in the 2020 census, and yet state Republicans have still found a way to gerrymander and avoid adding districts that represent this growth," said Maria Teresa Kumar, CEO of Voto Latino. "The Texas GOP's efforts silence Latino voices through diminishing the power of their voting, packing and dividing them into convoluted district lines that lessen their representation, and making it harder to elect representatives of their choice."

"Latino population growth was the primary factor in why Texas has been allotted two new congressional seats next cycle, yet these new redistricting lines are further evidence that Texas Republicans believe they can act with impunity in their crusade to suppress the vote," added Kumar.

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland noted that "decade after decade," Texas has attempted to violate the Voting Rights Act with its redistricting efforts, but until 2013, the law blocked gerrymandered districts from going into effect immediately by requiring "pre-clearance," a federal oversight system meant to weed out discriminatory voting restrictions.

The U.S. Supreme Court overturned that protection in a 2013 ruling.

"Were that pre-clearance tool still in place, we would likely not be here today announcing this complaint," Garland said, urging Congress to "restore the Justice Department's pre-clearance authority."

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights applauded the DOJ for taking action, while adding that "Congress must also act by fully restoring the Voting Rights Act."


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