While Texas lawmakers dive into an encore legislative session at the capitol this month, a few high-ranking federal judges are quietly weighing whether or not the legislature intentionally passed laws that discriminate against minorities. These decisions are based on two separate, long-brewing cases, both rooted in Texas election laws, both rushing to wrap up before the looming 2018 election cycle, and both guaranteed to significantly shake up national politics. The first legal battle began in 2011, when the Texas Legislature drafted new state and congressional districts to keep up with the quickly-expanding population. Most of those new Texans were Latino and African American — a shift that eventually made white Texans a minority population in the state. According to voting rights advocates and federal judges, conservative lawmakers weren’t eager about their new black and brown (and predominantly Democrat) neighbors. So, they claim, the GOP-led legislature redrew district lines to dilute the votes of new black and brown Texans.
After voting rights groups sued the state for passing the new maps, Texas adopted temporary, court-drawn maps for the 2012 election cycle. Despite a Washington D.C. federal court ruling that these temporary maps were still discriminatory, the state legislature made these boundaries permanent in 2013.
These maps remain tangled in litigation. In March, a panel of three federal judges ruled that three of Texas congressional districts were illegally drawn in 2011 to intentionally suppress minority votes. A month later, the same trio of judges said the same “intentional discrimination” played a role in drawing a number of state House districts in 2011.