As sure as humidity and bluebonnets, the lawsuits against the Republican-led redistricting have begun.
Following the release of the 2020 U.S. Census, Texas began the process of redrawing congressional district lines. The data from the Census made it clear that 95 percent of the population growth in the state was non-white, but the new lines drawn by the Republican-controlled state legislature and signed by Republican Governor Greg Abbott still hand control of most of the state over to white voters.
Just as it did after the 2010 Census, disenfranchised groups are now suing the state for redress. As of right now, there are six lawsuits in progress.
The highest-profile challenge came from an expected source. The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) has long said that they would be watching the redistricting process closely, hoping to advise the state legislature in a way that wouldn’t result in a legal fight. However, they always anticipated that a lawsuit was going to happen over discrimination, and they were the first to file before the ink on the new law was even dry.
Representing the Texas Latino Redistricting Task Force, MALDEF filed suit against Abbott on October 18. The plaintiffs include League of United Latin American Citizens, Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, Mi Familia Vota, and individual Texas voters. The suit claims that the new maps violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, the 14th Amendment, and are intentionally racially motivated.
The Texas NAACP is suing Abbott directly. They filed on November 5, claiming the same injustices as MALDEF and adding violations of the 14th and 15th Amendments. Considering that the new maps completely eliminate Black majority congressional districts, this could be a very strong case. It will be hard to argue that was done by accident.
Voto Latino and a number of individual voters are suing Secretary of State John Scott over the maps because it “strategically cracks and packs Texas communities of color.” They also call the lopsided racial power dynamics resulting from the redrawn lines absurd and appear poised to fight the idea that it was not intentional.
The state of Texas is also being sued by Damon Wilson, an inmate from Grand Prairie who is currently confined in Richmond and was confined in Amarillo on Census Day. He alleges the redrawn congressional map engages in a practice of “prison gerrymandering” by counting prisoners in the counties they are imprisoned instead of where they reside.
Three different segments of the Texas legislature are entering lawsuits. State Sen. Beverly Powell (D-Burleson) and 7 voters in her district are suing Abbott over the maps. They are challenging the drawing of Senate District 10 specifically. The weirdly drawn districts in the Dallas-Fort Worth area show particularly egregious gerrymandering, limiting the power of communities of color by expanding the districts off into mostly white rural areas. The Mexican American Legislative Caucus of the Texas House has also filed two suits, one against Abbott and Scott in state court arguing the maps violate the county line rule and another against the State of Texas in federal court alleging an illegal racial gerrymander. Both lay out the unfairness of the new maps, particularly in the El Paso area.
State Sens. Roland Gutierrez (D-San Antonio) and Sarah Eckhardt (D-Austin) filed the first redistricting lawsuit before any maps had been drawn on September 1. They challenged the redistricting process in federal courts, claiming current maps were malapportioned and argued the Texas Constitution requires redistricting in a regular session, not a special session. Plaintiffs have told the judge they plan to re-file their claims in state court.
Finally, gerrymandering in the Houston area is being handled by a lawsuit filed by Fair Maps Texas Action Committee, OCA-Greater Houston, the North Texas Chapter of the Asian Pacific Islander Americans Public Affairs Association, and Emgage Texas. Their lawsuit against the governor mirrors other complaints.
All the lawsuits are similar in nature, alleging intentional racial discrimination in the ways the new maps are drawn. State lawyers have sought to consolidate these cases. In the case of Gutierrez v. Abbott, the motion was denied; however, for the rest of the cases except for Fair Maps Texas Action Committee v. Abbott, judges are considering arguments for and against consolidation this week.
Republicans are likely relying on the version of the Voting Rights Act that was depowered by the Supreme Court in 2013. The ruling did away with the provision that states with a history of voter suppression regarding people of color had to receive approval from the federal government. As it stands now, plaintiffs have to prove that district lines were the result of deliberate racial oppression, though the final results may be proof enough once the matter reaches the Supreme Court again, which one of these suits almost certainly will.