Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton disagrees with a ruling by federal judges that Republican lawmakers used racial gerrymandering in drawing lines for congressional districts to dilute the voting power of minorities and said Monday that district boundaries do not need to change.
In a 165-page opinion released late Friday, 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 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 included part of Tarrant County.
On Monday, Paxton’s office pointed out that the maps discussed by the judges in their opinion were never used in an actual election, making their criticisms “moot.” He said the Legislature adopted new maps in 2013 after being told to do so by the courts. As a result, his office said it is evaluating how to respond to the ruling.
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“We respectfully disagree with the redistricting panel’s majority decision,” Paxton said in a prepared statement. “The adoption of those maps in 2013 mooted any issue with the 2011 maps. There are no lines to redraw. Accordingly, we are confident we will prevail in this case.”
But the office of U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, said it expects the San Antonio court to schedule a hearing soon to discuss additional deliberations needed to resolve the case and reach a final remedy.
“Texas Republican leaders have been heard by a distinguished three-judge federal court which ruled that they engaged in intentional discrimination against Texas minority citizens,” Veasey, who represents District 33, said in a statement. “In disbelief of the ruling and showing pure disrespect for the Court, the Voting Rights Act, and our Constitution, Attorney General Paxton leaves the door open to future appeals.”
The majority opinion also said that the claims of bias in 2011 were not made meaningless by the 2013 maps. It said many of the “infirmities,” or weaknesses, from the 2011 plan were not remedied in the interim plans and were alleged to persist in the 2013 plans.
Burgess’ office did not respond to questions from the Star-Telegram about the court’s ruling.
In its lengthy opinion, U.S. District judges Xavier Rodgriguez and Orlando Garcia said that mapmakers violated the Voting Rights Act and the 14th Amendment, which guarantees equal protection under the law, by diluting minority voting strength in drawing Congressional districts 23, 27, and 35 in south, west and central Texas.
The judges found that the plaintiffs also proved intentional voter dilution in the Fort Worth-Dallas area, especially district 6, 12 and 26, saying that “mapmakers intentionally packed and cracked on the basis of race … with the intent to dilute minority voting strength.” Packing and cracking is the practice of concentrating minority voters into one district or splintering the votes among many.
But while the ruling clearly invalidates the districts in south and west Texas, it is less clear about what happened in North Texas. While the judges pointed out that a “lightning bolt” configuration was used to include minority neighborhoods in Burgess’ 26th District, it failed to prove a similar claim in the 6th.
The “lightning bolt” was largely eliminated when Veasey’s 33rd District was created for the 2013 election. But Veasey’s office said it is possible, after the court hears additional evidence about the current map, that it may want to resolve the remaining “packing and cracking” in North Texas.
U.S. District Judge Jerry Smith dissented from the ruling, saying that the majority opinion was moot because it contains maps drawn six years ago that are no longer in effect today.
This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.