In Texas, which has for decades made an art of violating the voting rights of minorities, officials and lawmakers can’t seem to keep their hands clean. Now, the state may become the first to have its voting practices placed under federal oversight since the Supreme Court struck down a central part of the Voting Rights Act in 2013. A Federal District Court in San Antonio ruled on March 10 that the state’s Republican-led Legislature redrew congressional district lines in 2011 with the intent to dilute the voting power of Latino and black citizens, who tend to vote Democratic. In two districts — one encompassing parts of South and West Texas, and the other in the Dallas-Fort Worth area — the court found that mapmakers used various methods that violated the Constitution or the Voting Rights Act. In the former, a Latino-majority district, they broke up cohesive Latino areas, pulled in Latino voters with lower turnout rates while excluding those with higher turnout rates, and included more high-turnout white voters.
The maps were first blocked in 2012 by a federal court in Washington, D.C., because Texas, along with several other states and jurisdictions with long histories of racial discrimination in voting, was required at the time to get federal approval for all changes to its voting laws or practices. Under this process, known as preclearance, Texas’ 2011 voter-ID law was also blocked. After the Supreme Court in 2013 invalidated the provision of the Voting Rights Act that determined who was subject to preclearance, Texas lawmakers jumped at the chance to restore the voter-ID law. (That law was struck down last summer by a federal appeals court for discriminating against black and Latino voters.) Local officials were also emboldened. In the city of Pasadena, where Latinos are the majority, Mayor Johnny Isbell quickly moved to change the city’s election system in a way that kept control of the City Council in white hands.
When asked why he did it, Mr. Isbell said, “Because the Justice Department can no longer tell us what to do.”