Juanita Wallace was among many voters of color who sued the state over its redistricting plans in 2011, accusing lawmakers of redrawing its political boundaries in a way that diluted the power of black and Latino Texans. Six years later, several elections have played out using embattled state House and congressional maps, even though federal judges so far ruled that Texas leaders intentionally discriminated in approving the boundaries. And the maps will probably stay in place for the 2018 elections as the U.S. Supreme Court weighs the state’s latest appeal. Wallace — a longtime educator, civil rights advocate and former head of the Dallas NAACP — won’t be around to see the result. She died of cancer last year at age 70.
“To me, it gets to this question of how do you fight back against this,” said Allison Riggs, who represented Wallace as the senior voting rights attorney with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. “You want to give this complicated legal analysis a human side, but you’re literally dragging the litigation so long that people are passing away. It’s nuts.”
It’s not rare for Texas to face lawsuits over redistricting, the once-per-decade process of redrawing political district lines to account for changing populations. Federal courts have scolded the Texas Legislature — whether led by Republicans or Democrats — for engaging in a pattern of racial discrimination in every redistricting cycle since 1970. And such legal challenges commonly move at a glacial pace.