Legal teams from Texas are gathered at the US Supreme Court today for arguments over which redistricting map should be used for this year’s elections. KERA’s Shelley Kofler reports the impact on minority voters is at issue.
Texas is among states that have documented histories of discriminating against minority voters. Because of that new election districts drawn after the census each decade must be approved under the federal Voting Rights Act. The districts must gain special approval by the U.S. Department of Justice or the federal court in Washington to ensure minorities have a fair chance of electing their choice of candidates.
The district maps drawn by republicans at the Texas legislature haven’t gotten that approval. So, with primary elections just months away, federal judges in San Antonio drew different maps.
While the legal question revolves around protecting minority voters, it’s worth noting that under the state’s maps additional republicans are likely to be elected to the legislature and Congress. Additional Democrats will likely be elected under the map created by the San Antonio court.
Representative Trey Martinez Fisher, a San Antonio Democrat chairs the Mexican American Legislative Caucus which is arguing for use of the revised map and against the election districts created by the legislature.
Martinez Fisher: There were Congressional districts drawn specifically to dilute the voting strength of the minority community. There was dramatic growth of the minority community but you didn’t see a district come out of the legislature that reflects that minority growth.
Attorney General Gregg Abbott, a Republican, heads the legal team arguing in favor of the map drawn by Republican lawmakers.
Abbott: We believe it’s the plaintiffs who are using race inappropriately. The way the plaintiffs are urging the court to redraw the map replaces six Hispanic Republicans with Hispanic Democrats. So what the plaintiffs are really arguing is a partisan approach instead of protecting racial minorities.
Martinez Fisher: It’s a nice political spin to say this is about politics but I think Greg Abbott knows very well that the map discriminates against Latinos.
How the Supreme Court decides the Texas debate is being watched across the country. Some observers believe the Justices may provide clues about how they view the Voting Rights Act and the requirement that states like Texas gain special approval or pre-clearance for election maps.