Texas lawmakers intentionally discriminated on the basis of race when they drew redistricting maps in 2011, according to a long-delayed federal ruling delivered last Friday night. That could eventually force the state to redraw the districts for the 36 members of its congressional delegation. Three districts of those districts are invalid, the judges found, and reworking them could have ripple effects for the districts around them. But that business about “intentional discrimination” could turn out to be much more significant: The courts could order the state to get federal government permission for any future changes to its voting and election laws.
The timeline in the case is a mess. The court ruled that the state’s 2011 maps were illegal. But the state is using interim maps adopted in 2013 — maps that include some of the earlier map’s legal problems. The dissenting judge in Friday’s 2-1 opinion said the whole issue is moot and should be tossed — a position gratefully picked up by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who came up on the losing side of the ruling.
The majority rejected that, saying the 2013 map was infected by the 2011 map and that the groups that sued the state should be allowed to proceed. “Plaintiffs should not have to jump through additional hoops to prove that the 2011 mapdrawers’ intent carried forward to the 2013 Legislature when plaintiffs’ fundamental claims are that the 2011 mapdrawers acted with discriminatory intent, plaintiffs are still being harmed by the districts drawn with that intent, and plaintiffs have potential relief available under [Section 3] for that harm.”
Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act includes “bail-in” provisions that allow federal courts to order “preclearance” when a state has been caught intentionally discriminating in its voting and election laws. The judges didn’t order preclearance for Texas, but they suggested the possibility exists.