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Court: Texas House map intentionally diluted minority votes

Illustration by Anneke Paterson / Todd Wiseman of The Texas Tribune.

by Alexa Ura and Jim Malewitz | The Texas Tribune

Texas lawmakers intentionally diluted votes of minority voters in drawing the state's House districts, a panel of federal judges ruled Thursday.

In a long-awaited ruling, the San Antonio-based judges found that lawmakers in 2011 either violated the U.S. Constitution or the Voting Rights Act by intentionally diluting minority voters statewide and specifically in a litany of House districts across Texas. Those districts encompass areas including El Paso, Bexar, Nueces, Harris, Dallas and Bell counties.

In some instances, the judges ruled, map-drawers’ use of race to configure some districts to comply with the Voting Rights Act instead “turned the VRA on its head.”

“Instead of using race to provide equal electoral opportunity, they intentionally used it to undermine Latino voting opportunity,” U.S. District Judges Orlando Garcia and Xavier Rodriguez wrote.

The 2-1 ruling came one month after the same court found intentional discrimination in the drawing of three Texas congressional districts. Like that ruling, however, the judges did not offer a remedy for the violations — leaving open the question of how the ruling will affect House races in 2018.

In a dissenting opinion, Judge Jerry Smith of the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals called the majority’s findings “fatally infected, from start to finish, with the misunderstanding that race, rather than partisan advantage" was behind the state maps.

“Despite its heartfelt efforts, this panel majority has badly overreached in finding that Texas used race, instead of partisan advantage, as the predominant factor in the 2011 redistricting,” Smith wrote, seemingly welcoming an appeal of the ruling by ending his dissent with a final quip: “Stay tuned.”

This is a developing story and will be updated.

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • The federal judges who said the state's congressional maps are invalid last month are in position to take another step — to require Texas to get federal permission whenever it wants to change election and voting laws.
  • Here's what you need to know about last month's huge — and incredibly complicated — ruling that effectively invalidated Texas' congressional map.

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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