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Voting rights lawsuit seeks to overturn Texas' new congressional districts

Chuck Lindell, Austin American-Statesman on

Published in News & Features

AUSTIN, Texas — An organization affiliated with Eric Holder, who was attorney general in the Obama administration, has filed a federal lawsuit seeking to overturn the state's GOP-drawn redistricting map for Congress on behalf of a Latino-rights group and 13 Texas voters.

Filed Monday in Austin federal court, the lawsuit claims mapmakers in the Texas Legislature improperly drew political districts in Senate Bill 6 that increased the power of white voters even though 95% of the state's growth last decade was fueled by people of color.

That population growth made Texas the only state to gain two congressional seats after the 2020 Census.

An organization led by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, shown speaking at the University of Texas in 2011, has filed a federal lawsuit against Texas' new congressional districts on behalf of Voto Latino and 13 voters.

"Yet Senate Bill 6 appropriates those additional districts — and more — for white Texans," the lawsuit argued. "Senate Bill 6 does so by packing and cracking communities of color along racial lines to ensure that those groups’ growing populations will not translate to increased political influence."

Holder, chairman of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, said the congressional districts drawn by Republican lawmakers and signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott violate the Voting Rights Act.

"We simply cannot allow Gov. (Greg) Abbott to deny Texans a free and fair election through these undemocratic, gerrymandered maps that fail spectacularly to represent the state’s growing communities of color," Holder said.

Republicans who led the redistricting effort during the recently concluded third special session insisted that all redistricting maps, including those for the Legislature, were drawn blind to race and approved by consulting lawyers who said the new districts complied with voting-rights laws.

The redistricting process, led by Republicans as the majority party in the Texas House and Senate, produced maps that are expected to increase GOP strength in Congress and the Legislature.

Those redistricting maps, and one for the State Board of Education, have already been challenged as discriminatory in a federal lawsuit by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund on Oct. 18.

The second lawsuit, filed Monday on behalf of Voto Latino and 13 voters, asks U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman to overturn the congressional districts and order a new map to be drawn that:

 

—Adds two majority Latino districts in South and West Texas, from the border region north to Bexar County and south to the Gulf of Mexico.

—Improves the voting strength of Latinos in Congressional District 23, which stretches along the border with Mexico from San Antonio to just east of El Paso.

—Adds a majority Latino or majority Black-Latino district in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

—Creates another majority Latino or majority Black-Latino district in the Houston area.

The lawsuit also complained that Congressional District 35, which stretches from Austin to San Antonio along a narrow strip of Interstate 35, improperly combined far-flung Latino communities into a district with a Latino voting-age population of just under 48%.

"By unnecessarily combining two differently situated populations of Latino voters in an oddly-shaped, noncompact district in CD35, Senate Bill 6 dilutes their votes and impairs the ability of Latino voters in neighboring districts ... to elect their candidates of choice," the lawsuit said.

Voto Latino CEO Maria Teresa Kumar said Republican lawmakers avoided creating districts that represent the 2 million additional Latinos counted in the 2020 Census.

"These new redistricting lines are further evidence that Texas Republicans believe they can act with impunity in their crusade to suppress the vote," Kumar said.

Monday's lawsuit was filed by the National Redistricting Action Fund, a nonprofit affiliate of Holder's organization.

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