By Gary Bledsoe and Luis Vera
Texas is changing rapidly. The 2010 Census revealed that we are becoming a more diverse state, with more diverse interests. Last week a three-judge panel released the final set of voting maps in what has been a protracted redistricting debate. The Texas NAACP and LULAC believe that these interim maps violate the Voting Rights Act by ignoring demographic realities and short-changing racial and ethnic minorities. It is time for Texas’ voting maps to reflect the state of Texas today.
The 2010 Census revealed that ten years of population growth had earned Texas four new seats in the United States Congress. 65% of recent growth came from Latinos, and 14% came from African Americans. These two groups now comprise just under half of Texas’s voting age population. Any new map should reflect this minority growth and counterbalance discrimination in the state’s current map, where only 11 out of 32 seats are responsive to minority interests.
Unfortunately, the redistricting process has been overly politicized and anything but fair. Last summer the Texas legislature unveiled a plan that actively diluted minority voting strength. After a lawsuit, a federal panel proposed an interim plan with 13 seats responsive to minority interests. This was less than ideal, but is a compromise we were willing to live with.
However, the State of Texas appealed the panel’s decision, and the U.S. Supreme Court overturned it. This week, the panel released a compromise plan that hews far too closely to the legislature’s original offer. The so-called “compromise” creates a net gain of zero Latino districts, fractures black neighborhoods, and strands thousands of black voters in White-dominated districts. Districts 23 and 27 have been lost, possibly forever. The plan does create a new Latino district in Dallas Fort-Worth, but it comes at the detriment of all other Latinos and African Americans in Texas.
In fact, because of Texas’ four new seats in Congress, this plan actually decreases the percentage of minority opportunity districts from 34.4% to 30.5%. With majority voters controlling at least 25 of 36 Congressional seats, the plan designates 70% of the total seats for less than 40% of the population – hardly a course correction.
Last week the NAACP and LULAC joined other groups in challenging this plan in a Washington, DC federal court. We believe that these maps violate Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act as well as the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th amendment, by reducing minority voting strength and intentionally discriminating against racial and ethnic minority voters.
Fortunately, we believe there is a fair solution. In many parts of Texas, African Americans and Latinos frequently live close to each other and have been shown to have similar experiences and engage in political cooperation. In our filing to the DC court this week, we cited the 5th Circuit precedent that minority groups may be considered together in the creation of coalition districts, as long as evidence establishes that those communities have similar interests and generally work together to elect the candidate of their choice.
Putting this precedent into practice, we believe that three additional minority coalition seats could be drawn in Dallas, Harris and Tarrant Counties, based on the cooperative behavior of the African American and Latino communities based there. This would be in addition to the six Latino districts in South and West Texas, the Latino opportunity district now in Harris County, the coalition opportunity district in Travis County and the three current African-American opportunity districts. That adds up to at least 14 Congressional Districts responsive to the interests of minorities.
As the state redraws its political boundaries, the NAACP and LULAC are working to protect the interests of those voters who need protection the most. Given the recent demographic shifts in Texas, we believe that the 11 minority opportunity districts currently offered in the compromise plan are simply not sufficient. We hope that the DC court will recognize the injustice inherent in this plan.
Gary Bledsoe is President of the NAACP Texas State Conference. Luis Vera is General Counsel of LULAC.