One of the important outcomes of the Census is to help lawmakers redraw legislature district maps to reflect changing populations. Republicans and Democrats often disagree over how those districts should be drawn. The majority party in each state legislature holds the power to redraw the districts and the minority party often fights where the district lines are placed. This is to prevent the majority from creating an unfair advantage to its voters in future elections. In Texas, this dispute has wound up in the courts.The U.S. Justice Department is suing the state for what it claims are unfair legislative maps that discriminate against minority voters. Here, Election Central takes a closer look at the situation, and why it matters for the country as a whole.
According to the Justice Department, and Attorney General Merrick Garland, in October 2021, Texas’s Republican lawmakers approved a map of new districts that discriminated against Latinos and other minorities. While states are allowed to draw their own districts, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 made it illegal for states to do it in a way that discriminates against racial and/or ethnic minorities.
The 2020 Census showed that Texas has grown by nearly four million people since the 2010 Census. This allows Texas to gain two more seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. Because the majority of these new residents are non-white (only five percent of new Texas residents are white), the Justice Department argues that the new districts should reflect this demographic shift. Moreover, in addition to becoming more diverse, Texas Census data shows that the state is becoming younger and more Democratic. But under the new maps, the number of seats in predictably Republican districts (meaning districts that went to Donald Trump in 2020 by a wide margin) would nearly double–from 11 to 21.
Republicans have called the claims absurd. And it is likely that the Justice Department will face an uphill battle with their lawsuit. In 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Rucho v. Common Cause that federal courts can’t make rulings about legislatures creating unbalanced and unfair district boundaries. This is called gerrymandering. The Court ruling signaled that it believed gerrymandering is about politics and not about race.
Of course, voting rights are always an important issue. But this case is especially important because Democrats control the U.S. House of Representatives by only a very small margin. The 2022 elections could very easily tip control of both houses of Congress to Republicans. These new maps will also be in place for the 2024 presidential election. Therefore, what happens in Texas could impact the whole nation.