Texas has a long history of voting discrimination against racial minorities. As Supreme Court rulings invalidated the Texas white primaries in 1944, the poll tax in 1966 and Texas’s system of multi-member state House districts in 1973, Texas turned to redistricting to dilute minority voting strength. The federal Voting Rights Act is the bulwark against unfair redistricting in Texas. Nationwide, the Voting Rights Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of race and, for certain jurisdictions with a history of voting discrimination (including Texas), until 2013 it required federal preapproval of voting-related changes. In every decade since the 1970s, courts or the U.S. Justice Department have relied on the Voting Rights Act to block one or more unjust statewide redistricting plans enacted in Texas.
In 2006, the Supreme Court used the Voting Rights Act to invalidate a Texas congressional redistricting plan because the Legislature took away West Texas Latino voters’ opportunity to elect their preferred candidate by removing 100,000 Latinos from their congressional district. Most recently, Texas’s 2011 redistricting plans for congressional and state House districts were preliminarily blocked under the Voting Rights Act. Their fate remains in the hands of a federal court.
As minority voters in Texas work to close the historical gap in political participation — relying on federal courts to make slow but steady progress in redistricting — fringe activists from the conservative Project on Fair Representation have filed the Evenwel v. Abbott case in order to neutralize the Voting Rights Act. If their plan for mandatory unequal population in redistricting prevails, Latino and other minority voters will be punished for living in areas with relatively more children and fewer registered voters.