A state lawmaker wants the House Committee on Redistricting to conduct hearings on congressional boundaries following a recent federal court ruling that racial gerrymandering was used in an effort to dilute minority voting power.
State Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, vice-chairman of the committee, said the panel has yet to decide other legislative proposals involving redistricting and that a federal court ruling invalidating how the congressional districts were drawn should be enough to stir them into action.
“Two federal district judges said the districts are illegal. Let’s fix them now! Let’s deal with it now!” Johnson said. “They are illegal, so let’s fix them while everyone is in Austin.”
Johnson sent a letter Wednesday requesting the hearing to committee’s chairman, state Rep. Cindy Burkett, R-Sunnyvale, so members could be briefed on the implications of the ruling. Burkett’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment from the Star-Telegram.
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In a 165-page opinion released late last week, a panel of federal judges determined that the GOP-controlled Legislature drew the congressional district lines in 2011 in a way that discriminated against Hispanics and African-Americans. But in the 2-1 decision, the federal judges didn’t recommend an immediate fix.
While the opinion particularly addressed how the congressional districts were drawn in South and West Texas, it also pointed out that racial gerrymandering was used to determine boundaries in North Texas, specifically Republican U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess’ 26th District that includes part of Tarrant County.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has said he disagrees with the court’s ruling and that the district lines don’t need to be redrawn because the 2011 maps were not used in later elections. Paxton’s office has said it is considering how to respond to the court’s ruling.
Johnson disagrees with Paxton, because several of the maps created in 2011 were used unchanged in the 2013 maps. The majority opinion also said many of the problems with the 2011 plan were not fixed in the interim plans.
“My problem is that whenever it comes to the rights of minorities … it can always wait,” Johnson said. “Why do we need to wait?”
Johnson said he also wants the committee to consider legislation establishing a commission to redraw political boundaries as well as his own bill that would have prison inmates be counted in their home counties instead of where they are incarcerated.
Also adding urgency to their mission is the fact that the filing deadline for the 2018 congressional elections is Nov. 11, he said.
This story contains material from the Star-Telegram archives.