The GOP’s bad week for gerrymandering and voter rights
The Texas Legislature deliberately suppressed the impact of Hispanic and other minority voters on elections. That's not an accusation; it's the takeaway from three rulings made by two federal courts in under a month.
First, on Aug. 15, a three-judge panel of the Western District of Texas ruled that in 2011 state lawmakers deliberately drew Texas congressional maps to suppress the voting power and impact of minority voters in two seats: Congressional District 27, held by Corpus Christi Republican Blake Farenthold, and CD 35, held by Austin Democrat Lloyd Doggett. When originally passed, CD 27 was seen as bolting together every available GOP ballot box between the coast and Bastrop County. Meanwhile, Doggett's Austin-anchored seat stretched thinly down I-35 to cover selected parts of San Antonio. Cumulatively, they denied Bexar County Hispanics a shot at determining another seat, which would have probably swung Democratic.
Less than two weeks later, the same court ruled that the Legislature also gerrymandered nine state House seats: five in the Dallas-Ft. Worth Metroplex, two around Temple/Killeen, and two in coastal Nueces Co. While four are held by Hispanic Democrats, the party still sees this as a victory: The court found that the other Republican-held seats were deliberately drawn to push out as many Hispanic and African-American voters as was possible, and draw them into neighboring Democratic districts – a process commonly known as packing and cracking.
If those two weren't enough, on Aug. 23, U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos of the Southern District of Texas issued a permanent injunction against SB 5, the latest iteration of the state's voter ID law. Gonzales Ramos had already ruled against SB 14, the prior and even more damaging version of the bill. Now she found that SB 5 did little to redress the fact that minority voters are up to four times less likely than white voters to have one of the limited list of government-issued photo IDs required to exercise their constitutionally protected rights.
These three rulings are merely the latest in a long line of court judgments against the state, and at this point it might seem that the state would accept the decisions of so many justices and fix a broken system. Then again, maybe not. Gov. Greg Abbott has already rejected calls from the court to reconvene the Lege for a redistricting special session, and Attorney General Ken Paxton has pledged to challenge all three rulings all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. On Monday, Justice Samuel Alito granted Paxton a temporary stay on the congressional ruling – the potential first step toward a SCOTUS hearing.