Late on Friday, a federal district court finally issued its long-awaited ruling in the lawsuit over Texas’ Republican-drawn congressional map shown at the top of this post (see here for a larger version). The court delivered a major victory for voting rights when it struck down several districts for violating the Voting Rights Act and the Equal Protections Clause, holding that several districts were illegal racial gerrymanders. This ruling could result in a new map being used in the 2018 elections that would contain additional districts where Latino voters could elect their candidate preference, and Democrats could consequently gain seats.
The court struck down several districts where Republicans had either diluted Latino voting strength so that Anglo candidates could win, or where Republicans had packed Latino voters to prevent them from electing their candidate choice in neighboring seats. A redrawn map could consequently see considerable changes to the invalidated 23rd District, which spans from El Paso to San Antonio, the 27th, which covers Corpus Christi and Victoria, and the 35th, which stretches from Austin to San Antonio, along with neighboring seats. Such adjustments could subsequently see a Latino Democrat oust Republican incumbents in the 23rd and 27th.
The judges additionally faulted Republicans for abusing race when drawing districts in the greater Dallas area, but did not specifically indicate that they would require Republican legislators to draw a new district to elect a Latino candidate. Plaintiffs will undoubtedly press the court to impose such a requirement when they argue for the appropriate remedy. Indeed, Daily Kos Elections itself has previously demonstrated how Republicans could have drawn another seat that would elect Latino voters’ candidate choice in Dallas at the expense of an Anglo Republican, in addition to making the aforementioned GOP-held 23rd and 27th heavily Latino.
Crucially, the court ruled that Republicans intentionally engaged in racial discrimination when they drew their map. That finding could be grounds for placing Texas back under Justice Department “preclearance” for voting law changes under the Voting Rights Act. Several predominantly Southern states with a history of discriminatory voting laws previously had to preclear any such changes until the Supreme Court gutted a key provision of the VRA in 2013. While a Jeff Sessions-led Justice Department is unlikely to block new oppressive voting laws, a future Democratic administration could.
Absurdly, this case has been ongoing ever since 2011, and litigants completed their arguments all the way back in 2014. Plaintiffs had rightly been outraged that the court was dragging its feet on issuing its ruling. Republicans have gotten away with an illegal racial gerrymander for a majority of this decade, demonstrating how it pays to illegally gerrymander, since the court of course can’t invalidate the last three election results held under the existing map.
Republican legislators will assuredly appeal this ruling to the Supreme Court. However, given a string of recent victories against Republican racial gerrymandering, there is a strong likelihood that the court will uphold part or even all of this decision, meaning Texas could have a new congressional map for 2018. Should the courts impose a remedy that makes the 23rd and 27th districts capable of electing Latino voters’ candidate preference, Democrats could gain at least two additional seats next year thanks to redistricting.