Texas lawmakers responsible for redistricting the state’s legislative boundaries discriminated against Hispanic voters and tried to protect Republican incumbents, the U.S. Justice Department argued in a federal court in San Antonio on Monday.
The redistricting efforts under fire are the state’s 2011 U.S. and state House districts, which were already thrown out by federal judges in favor of a map that included more Democratic-leaning districts, according to the Associated Press. Attorneys for the state denied the accusations during remarks for the case, arguing there was no concerted effort to discriminate and boundaries were drawn the best they could considering they had to be approved by Texas’ partisan Republican legislature.
“The state of Texas, as it has in redistricting cycles since 1970, adopted maps that discriminated against its citizens,” said Bryan Sells, a Justice Department attorney during opening statements, according to the Associated Press. Patrick Sweeten, an assistant Texas attorney general responded during his opening statements, saying, “No one in the Texas Legislature discriminated on the basis of race.”
If Texas is found to have purposely excluded minorities in redistricting, it could have to seek approval from the U.S. attorney general or federal judges before it makes any changes to election or voting laws. Until a June 2013 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Texas was one of 16 states that were required to seek “pre-approval” of their redistricting plans under the Voting Rights Act of 1965. After the court’s ruling, the Justice Department said it would continue to examine redistricting plans and challenge those that it sees as violating the provisions of the Voting Rights Act and the Constitution.
Texas’ redistricting is conducted by the legislature and a Legislative Redistricting Board. The two main requirements are to ensure districts have equal or near equal populations and “drawn in a manner that neither has the purpose nor will have the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on the basis of race, color, or language group,” according to the Texas Legislative Council.