Congressional district maps proposed by Texas Republicans would protect incumbents and preserve Republican control of the state's delegation for another decade.
Critics say it is an attempt by Republicans — who control the redistricting process — to blunt the political power of the voters of color, particularly Latinos, who are fueling the state's growth.
The U.S. Constitution requires a census every 10 years. The data are used to redraw congressional districts to represent shifts in population. The process has become deeply political, with both parties vying to use their statehouse advantage to draw maps that will help propel them to control the U.S. House.
Texas gained two seats after the 2020 Census.
Draft maps introduced Monday by state Sen. Joan Huffman, a Republican from Houston who chairs the Senate's redistricting special committee, account for the state's 4 million new residents — half of them Latino.
The draft proposes 25 Republican or Republican-leaning districts and 13 Democratic or Democratic-leaning seats, according to the Cook Political Report. The current maps have 23 Republican or Republican-leaning seats, with 13 Democratic or Democratic-leaning seats, according to Cook.
Democrats and critics say the plan is an attempt to boost white voters' political representation at the expense of the Hispanic, Black and Asian communities that are responsible for most of the state's population growth.
Texas' current maps — with 36 House seats — consist of 22 districts with majorities of white voters, eight districts with Hispanic majorities and one with a Black majority; five districts have no majority. The Senate's proposed map — with 38 House seats — would consist of 23 districts with white majorities, seven with Hispanic majorities and none with a Black majority. Eight districts would have no racial majority.
"It's almost breathtaking in terms of aggressiveness towards communities of color, who provided 95 percent of Texas population growth last decade, yet there are no new minority opportunities on the map," said Michael Li, a redistricting expert at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law.
Li said the maps pair rural, reliably conservative voters with slices of metro areas that include large numbers of Latinos and Democrats, essentially insulating incumbent Republicans from the demographic changes that would make the state far more politically competitive if the map lines were drawn "naturally."
"This is a gerrymander not in the sense that it grabs five new seats, but it's a gerrymander in the sense that it takes seats off the table that otherwise would be competitive over the course of the decade," Li said.
Huffman did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
David Daley, a senior fellow at FairVote, a group that pushes for changes to the election system, who is the author of two books about redistricting, said the map appeared to have been designed to withstand the demographic changes that will occur over the next 10 years.
"They have put aside some of the short-term partisan seat maximization in order to lock in control for a full 10 years in states where the demographics are trending against them," he said.
Republicans have made gains among some Hispanic voters in Texas recently, but experts say race is still a strong predictor of voting patterns.
While many incumbents — including some Democrats, like U.S. Rep. Lizzie Fletcher — were drawn into safer seats, Hoffman's maps would put Democratic Reps. Al Green and Sheila Jackson Lee, who represent Houston-area districts, into the same district. The map would also pair Republican Rep. Dan Crenshaw and Democratic Rep. Sylvia Garcia in a single district.
The maps would need to be passed by both chambers and signed by the governor to be implemented, and the proposal remains in the early stages. The House is likely to offer its own proposal, said state Rep. Ron Reynolds, a Democrat, who vowed to fight the map draft. Republicans hold strong majorities in both chambers of the Legislature and can approve the plans along party lines.
Reynolds, vice chair of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus, said the proposal "does not reflect the trends and why Texas got two new congressional districts in the first place."
He said he called Jackson Lee immediately after the draft was released, adding: "She is fuming."
Sources said that the maps would most likely be challenged in court but that such a court challenge would be difficult and that the maps would most likely be in effect during a lengthy challenge.
Jason Villalba, CEO and board chairman of the Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation, said that the map was a clear gerrymander to protect incumbents and that the maps would have been thrown out by the Justice Department for being discriminatory if the Voting Rights Act's preclearance provision were still in effect.
But advocates may face an uphill battle in bringing challenges, said Villalba, a former Republican legislator who is now an independent.
"It is hard to show in Dallas County, for instance, a map that could be drawn that would be strong majority-Hispanic. That's not an easy draw, because Hispanics are everywhere," he said.