NBC News: Supreme Court hears Texas case to keep voting districts seen as diluting Latino, black votes

by Suzanne Gamboa for NBC News

AUSTIN, Texas — As the U.S. Supreme Court began oral arguments Tuesday in the latest chapter of Texas’ protracted redistricting battle, Democratic State Rep. Rafael Anchía says the problem should be obvious to anyone who looks at a map of three state House districts in Dallas County.

“One looks like a snake that ate a rabbit or a rat and the other a lion with a fluffy tail,” Anchía, who represents a western part of Dallas County, told NBC News. “Those two districts are illegal.”

Latinos were packed into those two districts to reduce the number of Latino voters in a third adjacent district, affecting who could get elected in that district, he said.

“They really don’t pass the eye test,” Anchía said. “It’s obvious they have been gerrymandered.”

Attempts to challenge Texas’ electoral maps date to 2011 and center on districts that were drawn based on the 2010 census. In court documents, the challengers — individuals, civil rights and activist groups and black and Hispanic lawmakers — have alleged that the Republican-controlled Legislature drew the maps to dilute black and Latino votes.

The entire issue has been bogged down in courts so long that the state’s Latino population has grown by at least 1.5 million since it all started.

In this latest court action, the state wants the U.S. Supreme Court to leave in place two congressional districts and nine House districts — including the ones with the fluffy lion’s tail and the bloated snake.

A lower court declared those districts unconstitutional and in violation of the Voting Rights Act.

But the state’s attorney general, Ken Paxton, has argued that because the 11 districts now in dispute were part of a court-drawn redistricting map the state was forced to adopt in 2012, they should be allowed to stand.

“In 2012, at the Supreme Court’s direction, the federal district court in San Antonio drew the redistricting maps. Those maps were adopted by the Legislature in 2013 and used in the last three election cycles,” Paxton said in a February statement.

“Now we are seeing yet another attempt by unelected federal judges to override the judgment of Texas voters. The lower court’s decisions to invalidate parts of the maps it drew and adopted defy law and logic and cannot be sustained,” he said.

Paxton’s office did not respond to a phone call from NBC News requesting comment on Tuesday.

But José Garza, attorney for the Texas Legislature’s Mexican American Legislative Caucus, said that, in fact, the 11 districts were drawn by the Republican-led state Legislature. They ended up in the court-drawn maps that were supposed to be temporary. The court that drew them gave the Legislature time to draw new maps. Instead, the Legislature adopted the court-drawn maps, leaving in place the districts now in dispute.

Since then, more evidence has been submitted to show that the lines in the 11 districts are discriminatory.

By trying to keep those districts in place, Garza contends that the state is trying to shield from public scrutiny “its deeds in drawing these districts.”

The 11 districts include a state House district on Texas’ coast that was redrawn so the Latino Republican who represented it no longer lived in the district and could not be a candidate there; a white Republican now represents the district, Garza said.

In a Central Texas district, the Legislature “drew a line straight through the minority community,” so that there was not a majority-minority coalition district. The incumbent at the time, who is white, acknowledged in court testimony that the community was split, in part because if it had been kept whole “it would have probably got me unelected,” according to a court document.

The opponents of the state’s redistricting plan say it is part of a larger environment of hostility toward the state’s growing Latino population and an attempt to cap its influence.

“While redistricting is what we are dealing with,” Anchía said of the Supreme Court case, “there is an entire environment of discrimination we are dealing with in Texas.”

He named, along with the redistricting, the state’s voter ID law, which a judge has declared to be designed to discriminate; a judge’s ruling recently that Texas’ voter registration process violates the National Voting Rights Act; and an attempt by the state to adopt a textbook that was seen as racist against Mexican-Americans and blacks.

“We have to see all of these things as not siloed, but intentionally discriminated against Latinos and African-Americans,” Anchía said.