In a continuation of a battle than has spanned two decades and three Presidencies, a divided panel of US District Court judges in San Antonio ruled Friday night that three Congressional districts in South and Southwest Texas were drawn by the state's Republican dominated Legislature to intentionally discriminate against minority voters, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.
The three districts in question include one in Corpus Christi and one which stretches from San Antonio nearly 500 miles to El Paso, both of which are currently represented by Republicans, and a district that snakes down I-35 and includes portions of both San Antonio and Austin and which is currently represented by a Democrat.
In their majority opinion, written by two San Antonio based federal judges appointed by the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, one appointed by George W. Bush, the other by Bill Clinton, cite a process used by the Republican map makers known as 'packing and cracking, in which Latino and African-American 'communities of interest' are broken up into separate districts to dilute their voting strength (cracking) and are combined in sometimes geographically contorted districts to create one minority-majority district and several majority dominant districts (packing).
"When done to minimize Hospanic electoral opportunity, it bears the mark of intentional discrimination," the two judges wrote. "The configurations of CD 23, CD 27, and CD 35 are therefore invalid."
"Republicans in Texas have ensured that the dark days of discrimination in Texas continue to loom," Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa said in a statement released early Saturday. "The sun will soon shine. In time, justice prevails."
But the third judge on the panel, Appeals Court Justice Jerry Smith, a Ronald Reagan appointee, issued a strongly worded dissent, calling the majority opinion 'misguided.'
He pointed out that the maps considered in this ruling, drawn in 2011, have since been replaced by new maps which were approved by the federal court in 2013, making the entire case 'moot.'
"This case concerns maps originally adopted six years ago, which have not even threatened to be in effect for the past four years," Smith wrote. "In June, 2013, nearly four years ago, Texas repealed the 2011 plans, and adopted a second set of interim maps that we had, ourselves, drawn. Those are the plans that remain in effect today, and we're used for the 2014 and 2016 election cycles, we have yet to hold a trial on their merit."
Smith says the district boundaries were drawn for political, not racial reasons, which is allowable. In fact, he says there is evidence that Republican map makers actually attempted to increase Hispanic power in District 35, the one that snakes between San Antonio and Austin, In hopes that powerful veteran Democratic Congressman Lloyd Doggett would lose to an Hispanic in the Democratic primary.
Legal battles battles over Texas Congressional redistricting have waged since 2003. In the first year that Republicans controlled both chambers of the Legislature, they took the unusual step of throwing out a redistricting plan which had been approved in 2001 (the Texas Legislature meets only in odd numbered years), and approved a plan that was much more favorable to Republicans.
Generally, redistricting is done only after the Census, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton did not immediately comment on the ruling, which is expected to be directly appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. While the Texas Congressional redistricting maps were fought by the Obama Justice Department, it is also unclear whether the Trump Administration will continue tgat challenge.
The ruling is: Case 5:11-cv-00360-OLG-JES-XR. Document 1339 Filed 03/10/17