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Texas gerrymandering discriminates against Hispanics, ruling says

March 12, 2017 at 5:17 PM EDT
A panel of federal judges in Texas is ordering the state to redraw its congressional district map because it discriminates against Hispanic voters. The judges ruled Friday that in 2011, Republican legislators engaged in gerrymandering on racial lines. The ruling also raises questions over Texas's strict photo voter ID laws. Reid Wilson, a reporter for The Hill, joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss.
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HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: A panel of federal judges in Texas is ordering the state of Texas to redraw the state’s congressional district map, because it intentionally discriminated against Hispanic voters. The judges ruled Friday that in 2011, Republican state legislators engaged in racial gerrymandering by diluting Hispanic voting strength in two Republican-held districts and by packing Hispanic voters into a neighboring district. The ruling, and another pending case over Texas’s strict photo voter ID law, raise questions about how the Justice Department and Supreme Court will handle voting rights.

Joining me now to discuss that is reporter Reid Wilson from “The Hill.”

So, explain what happened in these two districts.

REID WILSON, REPORTER, “THE HILL”: There’s this term called “packing and cracking”. And essentially what the court said that the Texas legislature did was they packed Hispanic voters into one district that centered around Austin and they cracked those voters apart in different communities. They divided similar communities in another district on the east coast of Texas and a third district that runs along the Texas-Mexico border.

So, this is all part of a pattern that Democrats say Republicans engage in in states where they control state legislatures in hopes of building more safe Republican districts and in cementing their majority in the U.S. House of Representatives.

HARI SREENIVASAN: This also comes just a few years ago that there used to be communities the Department of Justice would monitor and say, “Hey, you’ve got a history of bad voting practices. We want to get in there.” That was kind of lifted by the Supreme Court.

So, what happens in this case now?

REID WILSON: So, what we’re seeing voting rights advocates doing now is challenging these gerrymanders or challenging voter ID laws which as you said is also an issue in Texas, under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. That requires them to prove that the — whoever is making these laws that are involving election procedures, are doing so with a racially discriminatory intent. And the court said that’s what the Texas legislature did in this case.

Now, redistricting cases are special in that any time they are appealed, a decision at a district court level is appealed they will go directly to the Supreme Court. So if the state of Texas decides to appeal and they most certainly will, we’re going to get an issue like this in front of the Supreme Court in the next couple of years.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Right. In this case, the Department of Justice, now headed by Jeff Sessions, where do they weigh in on this?

REID WILSON: The Sessions Justice Department has shown early hints that they are going to be much less likely to weigh in on this state election law cases and that has a lot of civil rights groups really unhappy that essentially that they’re not going to have the weight of the Obama Justice Department behind them in the Trump administration.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So, are there repercussions for other gerrymandered districts around the country?

REID WILSON: Well, we’ve already seen the courts rule in a few cases — most notably in Virginia, where Democrats picked up a House seat after the Supreme Court said that those districts were improperly drawn. There are several other cases both involving redistricting in states like North Carolina and involving voter ID issues and other sort of election procedure changes in states like Arizona and Texas, as we have been talking about and Florida and some other states too.

So, this is very much an active legal battlefield and it’s one that is going to evolve over the next couple of years.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right. Reid Wilson from “The Hill” — thanks so much.

REID WILSON: You got it.

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