Civil rights groups and minority lawmakers opened a redistricting trial Monday with testimony they say shows the GOP-controlled Legislature illegally diluted the minority vote when it adopted temporary, court-ordered maps in 2013 as long term. The trial, in front of a bipartisan three-judge panel, is the latest chapter in a long-running dispute over which party will wield more or less power in Texas as a result of the once-a-decade redrawing of political lines. It grows out of a lawsuit filed in 2011 by minority groups and politicians who accuse the state of suppressing the minority vote through racial and partisan gerrymandering. The judges’ panel has previously denied the partisan gerrymandering claims but is taking up racial gerrymandering claims.
If the plaintiffs win, Texas could be forced to scramble to draw up new maps in time for the 2018 elections. And, if the state loses, its voting law changes could be the first to be put back under federal oversight since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down key parts of the federal Voting Rights Act in 2013.
In a pair of rulings this year, the same jurists hearing the trial – judges Orlando Garcia, a Democrat, and Xavier Rodriguez, a Republican, both of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, and Republican Judge Jerry E. Smith of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals – found the Legislature’s 2011 congressional and state House maps violated federal law.