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Justice Department to sue Texas over the state's redistricting plans

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

For the third time this year, the U.S. Justice Department has filed suit against Texas. This time it's over the state's redistricting efforts, which the DOJ calls discriminatory. The Biden administration had already sued Texas over new laws on voting and abortion. Ashley Lopez is covering the latest lawsuit for our member station KUT in Austin.

What exactly did Texas do that got it sued?

ASHLEY LOPEZ, BYLINE: So DOJ officials alleged that Texas lawmakers violated the Voting Rights Act when they drew up new political districts this year. The Voting Rights Act, of course, is a civil rights-era law that protects the voting rights of racial minorities. And in this case, the DOJ is specifically concerned about how Texas' new maps affect Latino and Black voters. According to them, Texas intended to discriminate against these communities when they drew up new political boundaries for the next decade.

INSKEEP: I guess we should note there was going to be a lawsuit regardless because other groups had sued Texas already over the maps. Why did the Justice Department join in?

LOPEZ: Yeah, that's right. So a lot of this has to do with the U.S. Supreme Court's decision back in 2013 to strike down a part of the Voting Rights Act. In particular, the court got rid of a part of the law that required some states, including Texas, to get clearance by the federal government before they enact new voting maps or laws. And U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland has been saying that this is something he was worried about as states prepared to draw new maps this year. Here's Garland in a press conference yesterday.

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MERRICK GARLAND: Earlier this year, I noted that this redistricting cycle would be the first to proceed since 1960 without the protection of pre-clearance. But I also said that the department would use all available authorities and resources to continue protecting the right to vote.

LOPEZ: And Garland said this lawsuit against Texas is part of that work that he promised to do.

INSKEEP: I'm just thinking this through. So in the past, Texas had to get permission in advance for its maps. That is no longer the case. Texas is able to just do a map and say to the United States, sue us if you don't like it, and of course, they're going ahead and suing them. So what specifically did Texas do that, at least according to the federal government, would concern them about diminishing the voting power of racial minorities?

LOPEZ: Yes, that's right. And the concern is that even though racial minorities in Texas made up 95% of the state's population growth in the past decade, state lawmakers drew maps that didn't give those communities more voting power. For example, this population growth led to the state getting two new congressional seats. But DOJ officials say Texas designed both of those new seats to have white voting majorities. In the lawsuit, they also say state lawmakers denied Latinos opportunity districts in West Texas and in the Houston area, and they broke up communities of color in the core of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex and put those voters in districts with white voters. The DOJ said the redistricting process in Texas in general was rushed and didn't have adequate amount of public input. Merrick Garland also pointed out that Texas has a bad history with redistricting. Since the 1960s, Texas has been found to violate the Voting Rights Act every time it has drawn new political maps, so the DOJ says this is part of a long-term problem in Texas.

INSKEEP: Wow, every time. So what did Texas Republicans say in response?

LOPEZ: Well, our attorney general, Ken Paxton, said the lawsuit is absurd and a ploy to control Texas voters. He said on Twitter that he was confident the state's redistricting efforts will be proven lawful. And what Republicans in Texas have said all along is that they were not taking aim at communities of color when they drew up these maps. They were just creating advantages for their party, which is something the U.S. Supreme Court has said is OK for parties in power to do.

INSKEEP: That's exactly right. Chief Justice John Roberts said if you can prove it was for party purposes and not racial purposes, you may get away with it. Ashley, thanks so much.

LOPEZ: Yeah, thank you.

INSKEEP: That's Ashley Lopez of KUT in Austin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ashley Lopez
Ashley Lopez is a political correspondent for NPR based in Austin, Texas. She joined NPR in May 2022. Prior to NPR, Lopez spent more than six years as a health care and politics reporter for KUT, Austin's public radio station. Before that, she was a political reporter for NPR Member stations in Florida and Kentucky. Lopez is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and grew up in Miami, Florida.
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