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Justice Department sues Texas to block electoral redistricting map

By Adam Schrader
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Justice Department sues Texas to block electoral redistricting map
Merrick Garland testifies during his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing in February. Attorney General Garland announced Monday that the Justice Department filed a lawsuit against Texas in a bid to block the Lone Star State's electoral redistricting map. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

Dec. 6 (UPI) -- The Justice Department filed a lawsuit against Texas in a bid to block the Lone Star State's electoral redistricting map, Attorney General Merrick Garland announced Monday.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court, alleges that Texas' new congressional and state legislative district maps violate Section II of the Voting Rights Act and disenfranchise Latino and Black voters.

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Garland recalled 2015 comments made by late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg when the Supreme Court upheld a plan removing the role of Arizona state lawmakers in drawing congressional districts.

"As the Supreme Court has observed, a core principle of our democracy is that 'voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around,'" Garland said. "Section II of the Voting Rights Act requires that state voting laws including laws that draw electoral maps provide eligible voters with an equal opportunity to participate in the democratic process and elect representatives of their choosing."

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Garland noted that the 2021 redistricting cycle would be the first to proceed without provisions allowing for preclearance -- or the process of seeking approval from the Justice Department for legal changes related to the voting process -- since 1960, after they were "effectively eliminated" by the Supreme Court in 2013.

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

Garland noted that the Justice Department published guidance in September explaining that Section II prohibits vote dilution -- which he said occurs "when an electoral practice minimizes or cancels out the voting strength of a racial group or language minority group."

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"When we issued that guidance, we noted that minority redistricting schemes are illegal and that the department would assess jurisdictions' compliance with those laws during this redistricting cycle," Garland said. "The department's career voting law experts have assessed Texas' new redistricting plans and determined that they include districts that violate the Voting Rights Act."

In November, the Justice Department filed a separate lawsuit against Texas alleging that the state's Senate Bill 1 "improperly restricts the assistance voters who have a disability or are unable to read or write can receive in the voting booth."

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Garland also noted that the Justice Department recently filed statements of interest pertaining to voting rights litigation in Arizona and Florida -- alleging that they "were passed with a discriminatory purpose."

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"In all of these matters, we have carefully assessed the facts and the law before taking action," Garland said.

Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta said during the press conference that Texas enacted its redistricting plan "through a rushed process with minimal opportunity for public comment, without any expert testimony and with an overall disregard for the massive minority population growth in Texas over the last decade."

The population in Texas grew by 4 million people from 2010 to 2020 with 95% of that growth coming from minority populations, Gupta said.

Because of its staggering growth, Texas will gain two new congressional seats mostly due to the growth in the minority population. But both of those new seats will have White voting majorities.

Justice Department investigators were especially troubled by the 23rd Congressional District in West Texas. The redistricting "effectively eliminated" the opportunity for Latino voters to elect candidates of their choice, Gupta said.

"This is the third time in three decades where Texas has eliminated a Latino electoral opportunity in this same district despite previous court determinations that this violates the law," she said.

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Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Monday tweeted that he was "confident" that the state would prevail against the Justice Department regarding the new lawsuit.

"The Department of Justice's absurd lawsuit against our state is the Biden Administration's latest ploy to control Texas voters," Paxton tweeted. "I am confident that our legislature's redistricting decisions will be proven lawful, and this preposterous attempt to sway democracy will fail."

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