Justice Department files lawsuit accusing Texas redistricting plan of violating the Voting Rights Act

A voter casts their ballot in Houston, Texas, in June 2020.
A voter casts their ballot in Houston, Texas, in June 2020. Associated Press
  • The DOJ filed a voting rights lawsuit seeking to block Texas’ new congressional district maps. 
  • The suit argues that the GOP-drawn maps dilute the power of Black and Latino voters. 
  • The complaint says Republicans “surgically excised” Latino voters from the Dallas-Fort Worth area. 

The Department of Justice on Monday sued Texas over its redistricting plan, alleging that the new maps dilute the power of Black and Latino voters who have fueled the state’s population growth in the past decade.

Announcing the lawsuit, Attorney General Merrick Garland said the Justice Department found that the plans approved by the Republican-controlled Texas legislature and signed by Gov. Greg Abbott “deny Black and Latino voters an equal opportunity to participate in the voting process and to elect representatives of their choice in violation of the Voting Rights Act.”

Abbott signed the state’s new political maps into law in October. Voting rights advocates warned that the maps would weaken the political power of Black and Latino voters in the state, Insider’s Gwen Aviles previously reported

During a brief press conference, Garland and Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta said Texas’ redistricting plan failed to fairly reflect the marked growth in the state’s minority population since 2010. Gupta, the third-ranking Justice Department official, said Texas approved the redistricting plan through a “rushed process” and “with an overall disregard for the massive minority population growth in Texas over the last decade.”

The minority population growth, she said, accounted for 95 percent of Texas’ population growth between 2010 and 2020, leading to Texas gaining two congressional seats in reapportionment following the 2020 Census.

“Despite the significant increase in the number and proportion of eligible Latino and Black voters in Texas, the newly enacted redistricting plans will not allow minority voters an equal opportunity to elect representatives of their choice,” Gupta said. 

The lawsuit specifically argues that that the legislature “intentionally eliminated a Latino electoral opportunity in Congressional District 23,” currently represented by Republican Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, “a West Texas district where courts had identified Voting Rights Act violations during the previous two redistricting cycles.”

Texas Republicans, the lawsuit argues, further “failed to draw a seat encompassing the growing Latino electorate in Harris County” and “surgically excised minority communities from the core of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex (DFW) by attaching them to heavily Anglo rural counties, some more than a hundred miles away, placing them in a congressional district where they would lack equal electoral opportunity.” 

“This is not the first time Texas has acted to minimize the voting rights of its minority citizens,” the lawsuit adds. “Decade after decade, Texas has enacted redistricting plans that violate the Voting Rights Act.”

Monday’s lawsuit adds a new front to the Justice Department’s current legal battle with the Texas state government. In recent months, the Justice Department has sued Texas challenging the state’s restrictive abortion ban, and contested Abbot’s executive order prohibiting the transport of migrants. In November, the Justice Department alleged that new restrictions on voting in the state violated the Voting Rights Act and Civil Rights Act.

Garland on Monday repeated his call for Congress to pass new voting rights legislation and restore parts of the Voting Rights Act that required certain states and local governments with histories of discrimination to clear election changes with the Justice Department. The Supreme Court effectively eliminated the Justice Department’s so-called preclearance authority in 2013. 

The Democratic-controlled US House passed legislation to refortify the Voting Rights Act, including by restoring federal preclearance, in August, but the bill has stalled in the Senate. All but one Senate Republican blocked debate on the Senate’s version of the legislation in November. 

“I want to again urge Congress to restore the Justice Department’s preclearance authority,” Garland said Monday. “Were that preclearance tool still in place, we would likely not be here today, announcing this complaint.”