On Thursday, a three-judge federal court ruled that Texas intentionally discriminated against minority voters in drawing its state House district map in 2011. The decision follows a similar ruling by the same court in March holding that Texas also drew its federal congressional districts in an effort to dilute minority votes. Thursday’s ruling marks the third time in recent weeks that the federal judiciary has found Texas to have intentionally burdened its Hispanic voters.
The majority attached a 151-page findings of fact to its already lengthy opinion, reflecting careful analysis of Texas’ gerrymander that will be difficult for the Supreme Court to ignore on appeal. In short, the court found that Texas legislators drew multiple House districts that diluted Hispanics’ votes, a violation of both the Voting Rights Act and the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. The court also found that the legislature had engaged in race-based gerrymandering, which similarly runs afoul of equal protection and the VRA. Finally, the court concluded that the House map violated the one person, one vote principle by creating districts within unequal populations, another Equal Protection infringement.
Most critically, the majority held that Texas legislators had intentionally gerrymandered these districts in an effort to discriminate against Hispanics. That finding is key: If upheld, it means the court can place Texas back under “preclearance,” which would allow the Justice Department to veto all voting-related changes before they take effect. The Supreme Court gutted preclearance in 2013, but courts can still apply it to states that have been found to engage in deliberate voting discrimination. And although Attorney General Jeff Sessions is likely to sign off on whatever voter-suppression measures Texas passes over the next few years, a future Democratic administration could preemptively halt future Texas laws.
Texas will appeal this decision, along with others invalidating its districts and voting laws, all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary. Civil rights advocates are nervous about their odds at the high court, where they’ll need the support of Justice Anthony Kennedy, who sometimes favors states’ rights to suppress the franchise. But thanks to Thursday’s comprehensive decision, Kennedy will, at the very least, have to grapple with hundreds of pages of proof that Texas’ absurdly gerrymandered districts are the product of legislative racism.