Texas gets a new set of statewide elected officials next year — but one thing that won’t have changed is that the state will find itself embroiled in complicated and expensive redistricting litigation, just as it has in each of the last four decades. In fact, it is very likely that sometime next year, the Supreme Court will take up yet another major Texas redistricting case. In some ways, Texas’ penchant for breaking ground in redistricting law isn’t surprising. Texas long has been among the nation’s fast-growing states — one with a complicated ethnic mix, and lots of jockeying and jostling for power and representation. The fights over district lines often have been no-holds-barred, with the leaders of the day, be they Democrats or Republicans, pressing for maximum advantage and letting the courts decide if they went too far. The result has been frequent, head-spinning map changes.
In 1991, the Democrats redrew the state’s congressional map to create what the Almanac of American Politics called “the shrewdest gerrymander of the 1990s . . . with incredibly convoluted lines . . . pack(ing) heavily Republican suburban areas into just a few districts.” The resulting firestorm of litigation ended when a federal court voided primary elections in 13 districts and imposed a court-drawn map.
In 2003, it was the Republicans’ turn to gerrymander, resulting in the famous flight of Democrats to New Mexico and then Oklahoma in an ultimately futile effort to block the maps. That round of redistricting also resulted in a trip for Texas to the Supreme Court.
The most recent round of redistricting potentially could be the biggest clash yet. Between 2000 and 2010, Texas added a record 4.3 million people, of whom 66 percent were Hispanic and more than 90 percent were non-Anglo. Concurrent with this demographic revolution, Republicans captured near super-majorities in both chambers of the Texas Legislature, almost entirely on the strength of Anglo voters. That brought with it intense pressure on GOP lawmakers to find a way to cement those gains at both the congressional and legislative levels. Minority groups say the only way lawmakers were able to do so was by deliberately undermining the political strength of the state’s growing minority population.