In the latest about-face on voting rights under President Donald Trump, the U.S. Department of Justice no longer supports efforts to force Texas back under federal oversight of its electoral map drawing.
In legal filings this week, the Justice Department indicated it would side against the voters of color, civil rights groups and Democratic lawmakers who want a three-judge federal panel in San Antonio to require Texas to seek pre-approval of its legislative and congressional maps, given previous maps that the federal judges ruled discriminatory.
“The United States no longer believes that [federal supervision] is warranted in this case,” federal attorneys said in their filing to the court.
It’s the latest twist in the high-stakes legal fight that could return Texas to the days when it couldn’t make changes to its maps without the Justice Department or a federal court first ensuring that state lawmakers weren’t infringing on the political clout of voters of color — a voting rights safeguard that was in place for decades until 2013. And it’s the most recent reversal by the Justice Department in the case.
Under the Obama administration, the Justice Department sided with those challenging the state’s maps as discriminatory. But last year, Deputy U.S. Solicitor General Edwin Kneedler joined state attorneys in convincing the U.S. Supreme Court that Texas’ current congressional and state House maps, which were adopted in 2013, were legally sound.
In approving the state’s current maps, the high court in June wiped out a ruling by the San Antonio panel that found the maps were tainted with discrimination that was meant to thwart the voting power of Hispanic and black voters, oftentimes to keep white incumbents in office. But seemingly left untouched were previous findings of intentional discrimination at the hands of the state lawmakers who first redrew the state’s maps in 2011.
The state’s opponents are now pointing to some of those 2011 violations in asking the San Antonio panel to consider returning Texas to federal guardianship of its maps.