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Latino groups sue over Texas redistricting

"Texas has a unique record of disregarding the growth of the Latino community that goes back decades," said Thomas Saenz, head of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
Image: Texas Residents Cast Ballots For 2020 U.S. Presidential Election
A voter in the presidential election in Houston on Nov. 3.Sharon Steinmann / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

Several Latino people and groups filed a lawsuit Monday challenging redistricting maps drawn by the Texas Legislature, saying they dilute the voting rights of Latinos.

The lawsuit was filed Monday afternoon hours before the Texas Legislature approved redrawn U.S. House maps that shore up Republicans and do not add additional Latino majority districts, even though Latinos account for more than half of the state’s growth. 

The Voting Rights Act protects minority voters' right to choose who represents them, whether or not that is a person of color.

Thomas Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, or MALDEF, a Latino legal civil rights group, said the maps are typical of previous attempts by Texas’ GOP-controlled Legislature to dilute Latinos’ voting rights.

MALDEF is representing the plaintiffs.

“Texas has a unique record of disregarding the growth of the Latino community that goes back decades and leads to successful lawsuits by MALDEF and others,” Saenz said. “The maps are typical of that long-standing and unique record of disregard for Latino civil rights.”

The lawsuit says the maps drawn for congressional, legislative and State Board of Education districts violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and should be thrown out. The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for Western Texas.

In its 2013 Shelby v Holder decision, the Supreme Court essentially gutted the Voting Rights Act by nullifying Section 5 protections from discrimination.

The lawsuit names Gov. Greg Abbott and Jose Esparza, the state deputy secretary of state, as defendants.

Republicans have defended the maps, saying that they were drawn without regard to race and that they pass legal tests.   

The 2020 census showed that Texas’ population grew by nearly 4 million people, making it the only state to add two congressional seats because of population growth. 

The Latino population in Texas grew by 1.98 million, while the white population grew by just 187,252. Latinos are on track to outnumber whites by the end of the year or early next year, and they are at near-parity with the white population in Texas.

The increase in other minority populations, including people who identify as more than one race, was responsible for 95 percent of the population increase, the lawsuit said. 

The lawsuit also argues that the 2020 census shows that court-ordered maps that were used in the 2020 general election “do not reflect the population shifts that occurred within the last decade and are unconstitutionally malapportioned.”

Nina Perales, MALDEF’s vice president of litigation, said in a news release: "Texas once again adopted plans that dilute Latino voting strength. The new redistricting plans are an unlawful attempt to thwart the changing Texas electorate and should be struck down.” 

Challenges to the last Texas redistricting maps dragged out for almost a decade.

In 2018, the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, ruled that Texas' adoption of maps drawn by a federal court was not discriminatory.

Those maps had been adopted because a federal court ruled that maps drawn by the state in 2011 discriminated against minority voters.

MALDEF filed the lawsuit Monday even as it is resolving payment of attorneys’ fees form a decade-old suit it filed against Texas over its last round of redistricting.

“At the same time that the court is determining how many millions of dollars they will have to pay for violating the law 10 years ago, here they are doing the same thing again, putting more and more taxpayer money at risk, because they will lose again,” Saenz said.

The plaintiffs are: the League of United Latin American Citizens, the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, Mi Familia Vota, the American GI Forum, La Union del Pueblo Entero, the Mexican American Bar Association, Texas Hispanics Organized for Political Education, the William C. Velasquez Institute, FIEL Houston Inc., the Texas Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents and Emelda Menendez, Gilberto Menendez, Jose Olivares, Florida Chavez and Joey Cardenas.

Separately, the Mexican American Legislative Caucus petitioned to depose a Republican redistricting operative who was hired by the state to determine the role he played in Texas' redistricting.

The caucus members said they want the deposition for an investigation of possible violations of the state's open government laws.

The Texas Tribune reported Foltz helped draw Wisconsin legislative maps that were thrown out by a judge and criticized Foltz secrecy in the map drawing.

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