For decades, Lydia Camarillo has watched Texas expand its influence in Congress, acquiring more seats from population booms fueled largely by Latinos. And each time, Camarillo has battled a majority-White state legislature, which resisted drawing those new congressional districts to reflect the Latino community’s growth.

That fight is set to kick off again: The 2020 Census, which determines the once-a-decade reapportionment of U.S. House seats, will give Texas an additional two districts for the next 10 years. Official census data released Thursday shows 50 percent of the state’s population gain came from Latinos, with many living in and around major metropolitan areas such as Houston and Dallas.

“We’re going to fight all we can to gain the most seats, given the population,” said Camarillo, a voting rights activist who heads a coalition of Latino groups advocating for more representation.

U.S. census data released Thursday officially marks the beginning of what is expected to be a drawn-out and hard-fought redistricting process, as states use the new demographic details to inform where to draw district boundaries. Republicans have a considerable advantage: Not only do they control a majority of the state legislatures responsible for drawing the maps, but traditional GOP strongholds in the South are growing in population, while large Democratic states in the North have seen their numbers fall.

Once every decade, states redraw their congressional district lines. The Post’s Colby Itkowitz explains why the stakes could not be higher. (Zach Purser Brown/The Washington Post)

States that voted for former president Donald Trump are adding five seats in the House and losing two, while those that voted for President Biden are losing five and gaining two — a reshuffling that could determine control of Congress at a time when Democrats hold a slim majority.

In GOP-controlled states such as Texas, the coming battles over how the new maps should be drawn will test the clout of Latinos — the fastest-growing ethnic group in the nation — and the ability of Republican leaders to hold on to power in the face of changing demographics.

Republicans completely control the drawing of the new congressional maps in three of the six states that are gaining seats in Congress — Texas, Florida and North Carolina. In all three, the population growth was driven overwhelmingly by expanding numbers of non-White residents.

Of the 4 million new residents that Texas gained in the last decade, nearly 2 million were Latino, while only 5 percent were White. Among the 2.7 million new residents in Florida, 54 percent were Latino and 8 percent were White. And North Carolina added 904,484 people — 35 percent of whom were Latino and 10 percent of whom were White.

Nationally, Republicans see their redistricting advantage this decade running in part through Texas. The Congressional Leadership Fund, a PAC dedicated to helping Republicans recapture the House, wrote in a memo obtained by The Washington Post that Texas and Florida are the two states where Republicans have an opportunity to make “sweeping gains” through redistricting.

Camarillo, who leads the Texas Latino Redistricting Task Force and is president of Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, believes at least one, if not both, of the new seats in her state should be majority-Latino districts, given that Latinos are the reason Texas continues to gain greater dominance in Washington.

But she said she knows from experience that the GOP-held state legislature is unlikely to see it that way: A decade ago, when the state gained four new congressional seats, the GOP-majority legislature resisted efforts to reflect the growth of non-White residents.

Camarillo’s organization and other groups proposed maps to the legislature that would have made three of the seats majority-Latino and the fourth a coalition of communities of color to reflect significant growth in the Black and Asian American populations. Instead, the GOP-held legislature approved a map that did not create any new majority-Latino districts — and instead eliminated one.

Several groups, including Camarillo’s, sued, asserting the Republican map was racially discriminatory. The lawsuits stretched on for most of the decade, eventually reaching the Supreme Court, which sided with Republicans. In the interim, a federal court drew a temporary map, later adopted by the GOP-led legislature, that restored the majority-Latino district and created two additional ones. But the ultimate map benefited the GOP.

“Democracy is clearly under attack in Texas,” Camarillo said, adding that “without a doubt” Republicans will try again to limit Latino influence when it comes to how maps will be drawn.

GOP veterans of Texas’s redistricting wars concur that Republicans will work to protect their grip on the state — but they argue it’s about politics, not about race.

“You have a Republican House, Senate, governor, attorney general, and given the Democrats have fled to Washington to prevent a quorum, I would think there won’t be as much bipartisanship, not that there ever has been a lot,” said former congressman Joe Barton (R-Texas), referring to Democratic state lawmakers who left Texas this summer to block new voting restrictions. “This time around, the Republicans will try and beef up the endangered Republicans and redraw the lines to take back the two seats” they lost to Democrats in the 2018 midterms.

The legislature is expected to take up redistricting in a special session this fall and faces a looming deadline in mid-December, when candidates must file for congressional primary races.

Partisan gerrymandering — the intentional drawing of district boundaries to benefit the party in control — has allowed Texas Republicans to amass increasingly more power since the beginning of the 21st century.

In 2019, the Supreme Court decided federal courts couldn’t take up partisan gerrymandering cases, saying it was a political question, not a legal one. To counter that, congressional Democrats have tried to ban partisan gerrymandering through still-stalled federal voting rights legislation.

As Texas has grown, Republicans have twice in the past 20 years seized the chance to solidify their control in the state through redistricting — a strategy that has allowed them to set Texas’s policy agenda and push through conservative priorities.

When Republicans took over the Texas House and full control of the legislature in 2003 for the first time in 130 years, they made it a top priority to draw the congressional lines to tilt power back to their party. At the time, The Post obtained a copy of a memo sent by a Barton aide to other congressional Republicans describing the partisan motives driving the final map.

“This is the most aggressive map I have ever seen,” the GOP aide wrote. “This has a real national impact that should assure that Republicans keep the House no matter the national mood.”

Barton said in an interview this week that the Republican maps weren’t racially discriminatory but instead were an effort by Republicans to “correct errors of the previous 30 years,” when Democrats were in control and gerrymandered districts to their advantage.

Matt Angle, a Texas Democratic consultant who works on redistricting, countered that Democrats used their time in power to create more minority districts. While that in turn created more Democratic seats, Angle said that was in part because Republicans effectively gave up on those voters and did not try to win them over.

“They’ve always been greedier than that and have an open hostility to voters of color,” Angle said of Republicans. “It shows in what they do.”

As elsewhere in the country, there is a strong correlation between race and party in the Texas. While no minority group is monolithic, non-Whites historically have voted in larger numbers for Democratic candidates over Republicans.

“If you are a White Texan, there’s a high likelihood you’re a Republican; if you’re non-White, it’s a high likelihood you’re a Democrat,” said Thomas Saenz, president of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which represents Latino groups in redistricting lawsuits. “That’s where we end up with problems: The partisan affiliation translates into race-based action.”

In 2020, Trump put a dent in the Democratic edge among Latinos in Texas, winning 40 percent of that vote. But he made inroads largely in communities along the border, while the Latino population growth in the state is centered in urban areas that are heavily Democratic. Of the nearly 2 million new Latinos in the state, 484,000 live in the Dallas metro area, 593,000 are in the Houston region and 236,000 are in San Antonio.

Still, Republicans point to the uptick in support for Trump among a segment of Latinos in southern Texas in 2020 to argue that they could create a majority-Latino seat there that would vote Republican.

“South Texas is going to be a big question,” Adam Kincaid, executive director of the National Republican Redistricting Trust, told reporters on a call last week. “[Democrats] are going to be in a hard position to say they are the party of choice for Latinos in South Texas. It’s hard to say they vote as a monolith, so they should have Democratic representation.”

Kincaid said he would not be surprised if Republicans gain another seat in South Texas that resembles the 23rd Congressional District, a majority-Latino district that has narrowly elected a Republican representative since 2014, when former GOP congressman Will Hurd beat a Democratic incumbent. Hurd did not run for reelection in 2020 and was replaced by Republican Rep. Tony Gonzales.

The 23rd is the district that Republicans in 2011 had tried to eliminate entirely but a federal court put back in the map, though critics said it was altered to the disadvantage of Latinos, by disproportionately creating a district of higher-turnout Whites and Latinos who do not have a consistent voting history or who cannot cast ballots, such as noncitizens and children. Republicans were able to hold it for most of the decade. The other two Latino-majority seats that were drawn by the court in the last redistricting process are not currently represented by a Latino, but rather a Black Democrat in one and a White Democrat in the other.

Angle said Republicans can draw Latino-majority seats that look fair on paper but have been drawn to intentionally contain a greater share of Latinos who are not eligible to vote.

“There’s no such thing as a Latino Republican district in Texas,” Angle said. “Republicans fake it by building districts with a majority Latino population they know will be overwhelmed by Anglo-bloc voting for the Republican.”

Minority groups have fewer protections than in previous redistricting efforts after the Supreme Court gutted the use of Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. That section forbid states from reducing the number of minority-held districts and also required that some states with a history of racial discrimination, including Texas, clear their maps with the Justice Department.

The decision left in place Section 2 of the law, which requires a state to draw a minority district if there is significant racial political polarization in how they vote. In other words, if Latinos typically vote for candidates from a different party than White voters, they should be given a chance to elect someone who aligns with their interests.

“Section 5 is a shield, while Section 2 is like a sword,” said Nick Stephanopoulos, a Harvard law professor who is an expert on redistricting.

But, Stephanopoulos said, the real trouble for minorities is not what those Voting Rights Act sections require, but the process they go through in court. A Section 2 claim follows the same schedule as any regular civil rights lawsuit, which can take years. In the meantime, the challenged map can be implemented by the state.

Section 5 challenges went to the Justice Department, which could block a map it found in violation of the Voting Rights Act. And if the case went to court, the burden of proof was on the state to show how its map was in compliance with the law. Now the legal burden falls on those challenging the maps.

Over the past decade, advocates like Camarillo challenged the current maps on claims that they were drawn to undermine the growing Latino population. A three-judge panel in Texas found two of the congressional seats were racially discriminatory, but the Supreme Court in a 5-to-4 decision ruled in 2018 that there was not sufficient proof that GOP lawmakers “acted in bad faith and engaged in intentional discrimination” when drawing the districts.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in her dissent, “After years of litigation and undeniable proof of intentional discrimination, minority voters in Texas — despite constituting a majority of the population within the state — will continue to be underrepresented in the political process.”

Ted Mellnik contributed to this report.


A previous version of this article misspelled the surname of U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-Tex.). The article has been corrected.