DOJ sues Texas over redistricting, saying the new maps discriminate

Garland said the maps disenfranchise African American and Latino voters.

December 6, 2021, 4:09 PM

The Justice Department is suing the state of Texas over its newly redistricted congressional and state legislature maps, Attorney General Merrick Garland announced Monday.

Garland said Texas violated the Voting Rights Act by drawing redistricting maps that disenfranchise African American and Latino voters.

"The complaint we filed today alleges that Texas has violated section two by creating redistricting plans that deny or abridge the rights of Latino and Black voters to vote on account of their race, color or membership in a language minority group," Garland said at a press conference Monday. "The department's career voting law experts have assessed Texas's new redistricting plans and determine that they include districts that violate the Voting Rights Act."

It marks the third time the Biden Justice Department has sued the state and the second time it has sued over an election-related matter.

The redistricting process, in which states are legally required to draw districts with roughly the same number of residents to ensure equal representation, determines how communities are represented in Congress. This year is the first time redistricting will take place since the Supreme Court gutted a part of the Voting Rights Act addressing discriminatory maps in 2013.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, recently signed the 2021 redistricting maps into law based on the 2020 Census, which gave the state two more congressional seats.

Vanita Gupta, the associate attorney general, said growth in the state's minority populations was not represented in the redistricting maps and that several districts "were drawn with discriminatory intent."

The state was also criticized for its redistricting process.

"Texas' 2021 redistricting plans were enacted through a rushed process with minimal opportunity for public comment, without any expert testimony and with an overall disregard for the massive minority population growth in Texas over the last decade," Gupta said, reflecting one of the claims in the suit that blamed the "compressed timeline" of a special session that spanned just over a month between when it began and when redistricting legislation was signed.

"The Congressional redistricting process was truncated because of the special session. Only three weeks passed between the unveiling of the initial proposal and the final passage of the conference committee map," the suit says.

The suit cites Texas Congressional District 23 as an example of "intentionally" reconfiguration to "eliminate a Latino electoral opportunity."

The DOJ also alleges the redistricting committee did the same in the Dallas/Fort Worth area and in Harris County, which is home to Houston -- one of the biggest cities in the country.

PHOTO: Attorney General Merrick B. Garland speaks at a press conference at the Department of Justice, Dec. 6, 2021, in Washington, D.C.
Attorney General Merrick B. Garland speaks at a press conference at the Department of Justice, Dec. 6, 2021, in Washington, D.C.
Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

"The enacted Congressional plan intentionally discriminates against minority voters in DFW by excising rapidly changing communities from DFW-based districts and attaching them instead through a narrow strip to several heavily Anglo counties," the suit says.

According to Census data included in the lawsuit, Texas' Latino population grew by almost 50%, and the African American population grew to 16% between 2010 and 2020.

The lawsuit, filed in the Western District of Texas, also alleges that Texas illegally redistricted some districts on the state level.

"Texas also eliminated Latino electoral opportunities in the State House plan through manipulation or outright elimination of districts where Latino communities previously had elected their preferred candidates. In the San Antonio region and in South Texas, Texas replaced Latinos in House Districts 118 and 31 with high-turnout Anglo voters, eliminating minority electoral opportunities," the lawsuit says.

"And in El Paso and West Texas, the State eliminated a Latino opportunity district entirely -- reducing the number of districts in which Latinos make up a citizen voting-age population majority from six to five -- by overpopulating and packing majority-Latino districts and under-populating nearby majority-Anglo districts."

Texas's "plans will diminish the opportunities for Latino and black voters in Texas to elect their preferred representatives," Gupta said.

In response to the DOJ's lawsuit, Texas House Democrats are highlighting the point they argued during the redistricting process -- that people of color, a majority of whom are Latino, contributed to the state's population growth but will have diminished power at the ballot box under the redistricting changes.

The move by the DOJ also comes after Texas Democrats spent months pressuring the Biden administration to take a bigger role in protecting voting rights as Texas Republicans successfully revised the state's voting laws over the summer.

Senate Rules committee Chairwoman Amy Klobuchar said the DOJ lawsuit in Texas "underscores" the need for legislative voting rights reform.

"This lawsuit underscores the importance of passing the Freedom to Vote Act to put an end to discriminatory redistricting and set basic national standards to make sure all Americans can make their voices heard in our democracy, regardless of what state or zip code they live in," Klobuchar said.

Klobuchar led multiple Senate Democratic efforts to pass voting reform earlier this year. All of those efforts failed at the hands of GOP filibusters.

This comes as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, in a dear colleague letter earlier Monday, said the Senate intends to address voting rights before the end of the year.

Texas has faced legal challenges over redistricting in every decade since Congress passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The Justice Department is asking a federal court to stop Texas from conducting elections under the current map and to order Texas to implement new congressional and state maps.

ABC News' Alisa Wiersema, Oren Oppenheim, Meg Cunningham and Allison Pecorin contributed to this report.