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Justice Department Challenges Texas ‘Perrymandering’

by Lou Dubose

Jul 26, 2013 | Politics


(Image source: Reuters)

Oh, the indignation.

Attorney General Eric Holder is using Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act to challenge the way the Texas Legislature redrew the state’s electoral districts and Republicans in Texas are “shocked, shocked!”

A bit of background.

Earlier this summer the Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which lists jurisdictions whose historically racist application of election laws placed them in special “covered” categories that required them to “preclear” with Washington all changes to voting law. The preclearance mechanism is found in Section 5 of the act.

With protections for minority voters gutted by the Roberts Court, Holder yesterday announced that he is using Section 3 of the VRA to request a federal court in San Antonio to force the state of Texas to preclear changes in election law.

Attorney General Eric Holder is using Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act to challenge the way the Texas Legislature redrew the state’s electoral districts and Republicans in Texas are “shocked, shocked!”

The state’s governor, and once and future presidential candidate, isn’t buying it.

“Once again, the Obama administration is demonstrating utter contempt for our country’s system of checks and balances, not to mention the U.S. Constitution,” Rick Perry said. “This end-run around the Supreme Court undermines the will of the people of Texas, and casts unfair aspersions on our state’s common-sense efforts to preserve the integrity of our elections process.”

Common sense efforts. Will of the people. But which people?

The 2010 Census found that since 2000 the population of Texas had grown from 20,851,820 to 25,145,561. Sixty-five percent of that growth was Hispanic. In fact, nine of 10 of the new Texans were either black or Hispanic.

That growth meant the state got four new seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, to be mapped out by the Texas Legislature.

How did the Republican Legislature respond? It decided that the new minority population, which tends to vote Democratic, deserved one of those four seats.

Then, working in coordination with San Antonio Republican Congressman Lamar Smith, Texas legislators carefully crafted districts that would have a high number of what they determined were “non-voting” Hispanics.

In other words, majority Hispanic congressional districts designed to allow white Republican candidates to win.

Last year, like the Federal District Court in Washington, the Spectator obtained internal memos and emails that demonstrated how this scheme worked. Eric Opiela, a lawyer working for the Texas House delegation in Washington, wrote about the Perrymandering scheme in one e-mail we obtained. The plan hinged on using voting records to place potential voters in specific categories:

• total Hispanic population
• Spanish surname RV (registered voters)
• Citizen voting age population (CVA)
• Hispanic citizen voting age population
• Spanish surname turnout
• Total turnout

With this data collected from all the state’s voting tabulation districts (VTDs), mapmakers could pack districts with Hispanics who were unlikely to turn out to vote:

Read it as Opiela described it:

These metrics would be useful in identifying a “nudge factor” by which one can
analyze which census blocks, when added to a particular district (especially 50+1
minority majority districts) help pull the district’s Total Hispanic Pop and
Hispanic CVAPs up to majority status, but leave the Spanish Surname RV and TO
[turnout] to the lowest.

The last phrase says it all: but leave the Spanish Surname RV and TO [turnout] to the lowest.

They were creating Hispanic districts in which Hispanic voters were not registering and in which Hispanic turnout in elections was the lowest.

The cynical manipulation of race was so evident that a panel of federal judges in Washington, D.C., blocked the maps, ruling that the Legislature had intentionally discriminated against Hispanics, and that the minority plaintiffs challenging the new districts “provided more evidence of discriminatory intent than we have space, or need, to address here.”

Texas Attorney General Gregg Abbott, a Republican who will probably replace Perry in 2014, is also indignant. Obama and his officials are trying to “put Texas elections under their thumb.”

Abbott said the D.C. court cases that Holder cited were vacated by the Supreme Court.

“Those decisions don’t exist as law,” Abbot said.

Come on, General Abbott. The court didn’t vacate the fact situation. And DOJ attorneys will now be presenting those facts in federal court in San Antonio.

Holder’s end-run around the Supreme Court has the State of Texas once standing before a federal judge and defending a set of facts that were worse than indefensible the last time around.


Lou Dubose is the editor of The Washington Spectator.


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