- Texas is the forefront of the redistricting battles across the US.
- Had an earlier set of maps become law, Rep. Al Green would have challenged Rep. Shelia Jackson Lee.
- While the lawmakers are no longer “pitted against” eachother, Green is fighting for fair maps.
As Texas emerges at the forefront of the redistricting battles across the US, one Congressman is determined to ensure that his constituents are fairly represented.
Rep. Al Green, a Democrat who has served as a Congressional representative for Texas’ 9th District since 2005, was in office for the last redistricting cycle in 2010.
The cycle resulted in a panel of federal judges declaring that the redistricting process was marked by Texas lawmakers “intentionally” diluting the voting power of voters of color.
Today, redistricting is just as contentious. A coalition of civil rights groups are suing Texas officials over district maps they argue contributes to the diminution of Latinos’ political influence.
And it’s not just Latinos that will be hurt by the new maps, advocates say.
“This [voter suppression] is nothing new for Texas,” Green, told Insider. “This is just the latest iteration of it that we’re experiencing now.”
While Texas has a well-documented history of diminishing the political influence of voters of color through redistricting, the battle has only become more intense.
This is the first since the Supreme Court’s 2013 Shelby v. Holder decision that states won’t have to get federal preclearance confirming their maps aren’t discriminatory.
Texas’ new redistricting maps have been signed into law. But that’s not stopping Green and many others from challenging them.
Texas maps initially pitted Rep. Shelia Jackson Lee and Green together
People of color were responsible for 95% of Texas’ population growth from 2010-2020 and are the reason why Texas is gaining two additional Congressional seats. Yet neither of the new seats will be allocated to majority non-white districts.
“We know that we are fighting racism on multiple fronts, but we still deny that it’s happening when we’re doing this redistricting,” Green said.
Had an earlier set of maps gone into effect, Green would have had to challenge Rep. Shelia Jackson Lee, who currently serves Texas’ 18th District, during the next Congressional term.
In my opinion, you commit one of the most egregious offenses if you gerrymander a person who has been duly elected by the constituents of a given Congressional district.Texas Rep. Al Green
Green and Jackson Lee, who are both Black Democratic lawmakers, would have split Black Democratic voters in Houston. The race could have also potentially resulted in one fewer Black lawmaker in Texas.
“This is what I call gerrymandering,” Green said. “In my opinion, you commit one of the most egregious offenses if you gerrymander a person who has been duly elected by the constituents of a given Congressional district.”
Green suggested it’s especially salient that the original maps pitted two Black lawmakers against each other.
“It’s not a coincidence that many of these battles over redistricting are taking place in states that are rapidly diversifying, like Texas,” Michael Li, senior counsel for the Brennan Center for Justice’s Democracy program, told Insider.
“Before, states like Texas were covered by section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, but after it was gutted in 2013, protections for communities of color were lost,” he said.
While the proposed map was ultimately changed, there’s still much work to be done to ensure Texans’ voices are heard, say advocates.
“It’s an all-hands-on-deck situation,” Marina Jenkins, the director of litigation and policy for the National Democratic Redistricting Committee (NDRC), a Democrat-led organization that works towards fair maps through litigation and other efforts, told Insider.
“The redistricting process should reflect the growing political power of communities of color, but if you were looking at the [Texas] maps without the full context, you wouldn’t be able to tell the extent to which the number of people of color in the state has grown,” she added.
Litigation and legislation are the way forward, argues Green
Texas has enacted some of the most stringent voter suppression laws in the country.
Gov. Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 1 into law in September, legislation that bans drive-thru voting, implements additional ID requirements for Texans who vote by mail, among other stipulations.
To Rep. Green, these voter suppression laws signal the need for comprehensive voting rights legislation, including the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would restore parts of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
For advocates, the legislation represents their best chance at ensuring communities of color aren’t excluded from the political process.
In the meantime, litigation continues from the voter advocacy groups ensuring Black and brown voices aren’t erased. Green told Insider that “there’s a good likelihood” he’ll be one of the people fighting in court for fair maps.
“You need to be engaged to protect the rights of people to select the person of their choice,” he said.
Litigation isn’t perfect, particularly because the courts can be slow-moving.
Li, of the Brennan Center, expressed concern that as these cases remain ongoing, Texas can move forward with “discriminatory maps.”
Yet he maintains that the lawsuits will nonetheless help “create the record” and a pathway for change.
“It’s important for people to understand that redistricting locks in power for 10 years and has enormous consequences for what our democracy looks like and whether people of color are represented,” Li said. “This is a once-in-a-decade opportunity.”