Texas Criticized for Ignoring Minority Growth in District Plans
(Bloomberg) -- Texas’s state legislature is drawing criticism for its proposed map of new congressional districts, likely to send at least two more Republicans to Washington next fall even as minorities have fueled the state’s population boom over the last decade.
The Lone Star state was the only one in the U.S. to receive two new congressional seats following the 2020 decennial census, which showed that 95% of the 4 million new people in Texas over the past 10 years were minorities. The state’s legislature, where both chambers are controlled by Republicans, has proposed a voting map that largely protects both Democrat and Republican incumbents, and corrals likely Republican voters into the two new seats.
Nationwide, states are undergoing redistricting, a process where both political parties aim to gain or maintain seats in Congress. In Texas, lawmakers in charge of drawing up the map say it was done in a race-blind way and then checked by lawyers who said it complies with the Voting Rights Act, the 1965 law that bars diluting the votes of minorities when redistricting.
“When you have such explosive growth in Texas and when 95% of it is minority-based, and to not have those new districts drawn in minority-majority districts -- it’s incredible the denials that will have to occur that race was not taken into consideration,” Robert Notzon, a lawyer for the Texas branch of the NAACP said Thursday in a Texas Senate hearing on the proposed map.
Republicans in the Texas Senate drafted the proposed new map behind closed doors and released it on Monday, making Thursday’s hearing the first chance for Democrats and the public to weigh in. It drew hours of witness testimony with criticism from both Democrats and Republicans.
The plan will likely avoid what some Democrats have been fearful of: that Republicans would try to further bolster their ranks beyond just the two new seats. Yet critics have said the way the state’s population has grown in the past 10 years -- mostly in Democrat-heavy urban areas -- calls for those two seats to go to them.
History is already working against the Democrats in the 2022 midterm elections. Since the Civil War, the president’s party has lost seats in 36 out of 40 midterm elections, for an average loss of 33 seats. Democrats now control the House by just five.
Growth in Hispanic areas in Texas’s urban centers was largely responsible for the state’s additional two congressional seats in the current redistricting, Gloria Leal, the state redistricting chair for LULAC, the Hispanic civil rights organization, said in the hearing.
Leal said that the Senate had created a “partisan map” that would decrease the number of predominantly Hispanic districts from eight to seven, and increase the number of majority-White districts from 22 to 23.
Leal said that the proposed map would not be able to withstand a court case under the Voting Rights Act or the 14th Amendment, arguing that it is “a blatant violation of the U.S. Constitution.” She also argued that due to the “probable undercount” of Hispanics in the U.S. Census, the state might have even qualified for a third seat.
Latinos now account for 39.3% of the population, nearly on par with White Texans, who make up 39.7%, and made up about half of the state’s population growth in the last 10 years. The growth in the Black and Asian populations together accounted for nearly 30% of the state’s boom.
This year’s redistricting, happening in all 50 states across the country, is the first time in half a century where some states, including Texas, don’t need to obtain preclearance from the federal government before putting newly redrawn maps into effect. The U.S. Supreme Court eliminated that provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act in 2013.
Democrats are in a better position to influence congressional maps than they were a decade ago, but still lag Republicans’ cartographic power. Republicans control redistricting in states with 184 congressional seats -- down from 210 a decade ago. Democrats control the drawing of just 75 seats, up from 44 in the last cycle.
The remaining 176 seats are drawn by bipartisan governments and independent commissions, and six states have only a single district that doesn’t need to be redrawn.
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