The Republican-controlled Legislature this year drew new political maps that solidify the GOP’s stranglehold while pulling back on the influence of voters of color. Credit: Michael Gonzalez/The Texas Tribune

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The Mexican American Legislative Caucus in the Texas House has opened a second front in the legal war over the state’s new political maps.

The caucus on Wednesday turned to the state courts to challenge the constitutionality of the new state House map, arguing it violates state requirements for breaking county lines in drawing up the chamber’s 150 districts. The move comes on the heels of two lawsuits filed against the newly approved maps in federal court. The caucus on Wednesday simultaneously filed another federal lawsuit alleging the state’s new maps were drawn with discriminatory intent and violate the federal Voting Rights Act.

Texas redistricting fights have typically played out in federal courts, which decade after decade have found that lawmakers, often intentionally, flouted federal protections for voters of color in redistricting. Filed in Austin, MALC framed its federal lawsuit as an effort to “redress once again Texas’s sordid pattern of racial discrimination.”

However, the lawsuit filed in state district court in Travis County is tied to language in the state Constitution, which states that legislators drawing 150 districts for the Texas House are supposed to keep whole counties that have sufficient population to make up one House district.

MALC’s challenge centers on the reconfiguration of Cameron County in the Rio Grande Valley, which breaks the county line twice to create three different districts — only one of which is wholly contained within the county. The state’s “county line rule,” MALC argues, would require two districts to be drawn within Cameron with the remaining population connected to a single neighboring district, as was the case under the map the state used for the last decade.

The new lines in Cameron, drawn over the objections of lawmakers who represent the affected areas, would afford Republicans a newly competitive state House seat in an area currently dominated by Democrats. In its federal lawsuit, MALC alleges the lines would also “severely dilute” the ability of Latinos and the Spanish-speaking community in the area to elect their preferred candidates.

The MALC lawsuits are just the latest entries in the growing stack of legal challenges to the new maps for the statehouse, Congress and the State Board of Education.

The Republican-controlled Legislature this year took on the work of redistricting to include a decade of population growth into the state’s maps and equalize the population in each district. Their final product was contained in district boundaries that solidified the GOP’s stranglehold while pulling back on the influence of voters of color.

Of the 4 million new residents the state gained since 2010, 95% were people of color. But throughout their mapmaking, Republicans manipulated boundary lines around communities of color and drew them into districts that diminish their voice.

Half of the state’s population gains in the last decade were among Hispanics. Yet the maps also deny them greater electoral power and actually pull back on their ability to control elections. The House map drops the number of districts in which Hispanics make up the majority of eligible voters from 33 to 30. The congressional map reduces the number of districts with a Hispanic voting majority from eight to seven.

The Republicans who led the redistricting process in the Legislature have argued the maps were drawn blind to race and that they were signed off by legal counsel who said they complied with federal law, though they have declined to disclose how those conclusions were reached.

In the federal lawsuit, MALC challenges the new maps for Congress, the Texas House and the State Board of Education as intentionally discriminatory and mired by illegal racial gerrymanders. The caucus also raises specific claims on a litany of districts where they allege the Legislature packed and cracked communities of color to limit the districts in which they could have an electoral impact.

“The plans adopted by the State not only failed to increase Latino and minority opportunities for representation, they actually decreased them while increasing the number of districts in which Anglos form a majority of the eligible voter population,” the MALC complaint reads. “This turns the concept of representative democracy on its head.”

Echoing the two federal lawsuits already in the pipeline, MALC is also challenging the Legislature’s refusal to create additional districts in which Hispanic voters would control elections. Republicans, who had complete control over the redistricting process this year, declined to create those districts even as they reconfigured the congressional map to include the two additional U.S. House seats the state gained, the most of any state in this year’s reapportionment, because of its explosive growth.

Latino voters and organizations that represent them filed the first federal lawsuit last month before all of the maps were sent to the governor, arguing the new boundaries intentionally discriminate against them and would pull back on their influence on elections.

A second lawsuit dropped shortly after Gov. Greg Abbott signed the maps into law. Backed by an organization affiliated with former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, a group of voters and Voto Latino are seeking to overturn the state’s new congressional map based on claims that it dilutes the voting power of people of color.

The Texas Tribune

The Texas Tribune is the only member-supported, digital-first, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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