Texas grew so much over the last decade that it qualified for four new House seats. Almost all of that growth — more than four million people — came from new Hispanic residents, but when the Republicans who control the State Legislature drew the new districts last summer, they reduced the number of districts where minorities could elect the candidate of their choice to 10 from 11.
Hispanics tend to vote Democratic, and under the Texas redistricting plan, the number of safe Republican seats would have risen to 26 from 21. This egregious violation of the Voting Rights Act prompted Hispanic groups to sue, and last month a federal court panel threw out the Legislature’s plan, which was also backed by Gov. Rick Perry. The court has drawn up a plan with three new districts in which minorities would be the majority, potentially giving the Democrats a gain of as many as four seats. Republicans immediately cried foul, demanding an end to judicial meddling.
The court’s map “completely disregards the careful work of the members of the Senate,” said Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, a Republican. “A court’s job is to apply the law, not to make policy,” said Attorney General Greg Abbott, who has appealed the decision to the United States Supreme Court. But applying the law — that is, redrawing the flawed map — is exactly what the court is required to do when a state violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which explicitly prohibits practices that dilute the ability of minority groups to elect the representative of their choice. Because of its history of discriminatory practices, Texas is required to get clearance from the Justice Department before making electoral changes — permission that both the department and now the federal court denied.
Of course, when the Democrats in Texas held power they also drew the district lines to their advantage. Such abuses permeate the majority of states that give legislatures the job of drawing Congressional lines every 10 years. California and at least five other states have a better idea: let nonpartisan commissions draw the districts, following both law and common sense but ignoring politics. If Texas really wants to keep the courts out of the process, it should follow a similar path.
Full Article: Voting Rights and Texas – NYTimes.com.