Judges Toss Out Texas' New Redistricting Maps

Aug 28, 2012
Originally published on August 28, 2012 8:52 pm
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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.


And I'm Melissa Block. A federal court has thrown out redistricting plans developed by the state of Texas. The plans redrew legislative districts. Today a three-judge panel in Washington D.C., ruled that they discriminated against minority voters. The ruling represents a big victory for President Obama's Justice Department. It had argued the new maps made it harder for Latinos to elect their preferred candidates. NPR Justice correspondent Carrie Johnson is here to talk about the decision. And, Carrie, what was at the heart of this dispute between Texas and the Justice Department?

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Melissa, it all comes down to this. Since the last census in 2000, Texas has had a whopping increase in population of more than 4 million, mostly thanks to Latinos and blacks. That means Texas will get four new seats in Congress, but because Texas has a history of discriminating against minorities at the ballot box, it either needs the U.S. Justice Department or a federal court to pre-approve any election changes it makes, like new maps.

Texas Governor Rick Perry, remember a one-time presidential contender, sued the Justice Department last year. The Justice Department said these maps were faulty. They made it harder for Latinos to elect their candidates of choice, and that the new maps also disproportionately hurt sitting black incumbent lawmakers in the state. Today that special court, that special three-judge panel in D.C., said Texas failed to show any of its plans should be approved, and said that they appeared to have been enacted with discriminatory purpose.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: And in making that ruling, Carrie, what do the courts say it used to come up with that decision? What kind of evidence did it mention?

JOHNSON: This was a long ruling, more than 150 pages filled with lots of gobbledygook, and technicalities. But, at bottom, the court said it mostly agreed with expert witnesses put on by the U.S. Justice Department. It said the state had failed to draw boundaries that would give Latinos a good shot at another seat in Congress, and that amounted to a step backward under the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The court seemed particularly troubled about the treatment of sitting minority lawmakers.

There was little direct evidence like emails about this, but the court relied on people like Congressman Al Green, an African-American lawmaker from the Houston area, who said these new maps removed the medical center and the Houston Astrodome, the economic guts from his district. They also relied - the judges - on Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, who's another African-American lawmaker. She said the new GOP plan removed her district office and even her home office from her territory. The court said that no such changes were made to Anglo lawmakers and their districts, and that couldn't have been a coincidence.

BLOCK: And we said a big victory for the Obama administration. What kind of response has there been to this ruling?

JOHNSON: The Justice Department was pretty understated. They issued a one-sentence statement saying they were pleased with the ruling. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott says he's going to appeal to the Supreme Court. He says this decision stretched the Voting Rights Act beyond the intentions of Congress, and far beyond the Constitution.

BLOCK: Meanwhile, Carrie, November elections are just a little more than two months away. What happens? What maps does Texas use?

JOHNSON: This is a little bit complicated too, I'm afraid, Melissa. But, the bottom line is that a different set of maps, ones developed by a special court in San Antonio, Texas, those are the maps that were used in the primaries, and that's what's going to be used in November.

BLOCK: Okay. NPR's Justice correspondent, Carrie Johnson. Carrie, thank you.

JOHNSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.