US Justice Dept sues Texas over voter maps, citing discrimination

Department says Texas plan violates US voting laws by diluting strength of Black, Latino and other minority voters.

The United States Justice Department has filed a lawsuit against Texas over the state’s redrawn congressional and state legislative districts, saying the new plan violates US voting laws by discriminating against minority voters.

The complaint, filed in US District Court for the Western District of Texas on Monday, argues that the Texas maps of congressional and state legislative districts violate a key provision of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The lawsuit notes that the vast majority of Texas’ population growth over the past decade came from Black, Latino and Asian residents, but the new maps that state Republicans drew do not give any of these communities new opportunities to choose their own representatives.

Instead, the maps pack Black and Latino communities into bizarre-shaped districts – a Dallas-area one is referred to as a “seahorse” shape – while preserving safe seats for white Republicans.

Texas’ redistricting plans “deny or abridge the rights of Latino and Black voters to vote on account of their race, colour or membership in a language minority group”, US Attorney General Merrick Garland said during a news conference in Washington, DC, announcing the lawsuit.

Protestors objected in September when Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, signed a bill that tightened Texas’ strict voting laws [File: LM Otero/AP Photo]

The case is the first legal action challenging a state’s maps from US President Joe Biden’s administration during this redistricting cycle.

It comes amid a wave of litigation over pushes in Republican-controlled state legislatures to restrict voting following the 2020 presidential elections. Those efforts were spurred by ex-President Donald Trump’s false claims that widespread fraud marred last year’s vote.

The Brennan Center for Justice, a New York University research centre that documents voting rights legislation in the US, reported that at least 19 states enacted 33 laws that make it harder for Americans to vote between January 1 and September 27 of this year.

In June, the Justice Department sued the state of Georgia over a restrictive new election law, and it filed another lawsuit against Texas in November over a new state law that limits mail-in voting, among other restrictions.

“This is not the first time that Texas has acted to minimise the voting rights of its minority citizens,” Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta said during Monday’s news conference. “Decade after decade, courts have found that Texas has enacted redistricting plans that deliberately dilute the voting strength of Latino and Black voters and that violate the Voting Rights Act.”

In a tweet, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton condemned the Justice Department’s lawsuit as an “absurd” intrusion by the Biden administration.

“The Department of Justice’s absurd lawsuit against our state is the Biden Administration’s latest ploy to control Texas voters,” Paxton said. “I am confident that our legislature’s redistricting decisions will be proven lawful, and this preposterous attempt to sway democracy will fail.”

Section 2 of the US Voting Rights Act prohibits mapmakers in US states from diluting the power of minorities by scattering them among disparate districts.

A 2013 US Supreme Court ruling gutted a provision of the Voting Rights Act that had required Texas and other states with a history of racial discrimination to have the Justice Department approve the maps before they take effect.

“I want to again urge Congress to restore the Justice Department’s preclearance authority. Were that still in place, would likely not be here today announcing this complaint,” Garland said.

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