Breaking: District Court, Splitting 2-1, Finds Some Texas Congressional Districts Violate Voting Rights Act or Constitution

The long awaited lengthy opinion on the congressional plan, with a dissent by Judge Smith, is here. The numerous findings of fact and conclusions of law are here. (The court has not released findings yet on the state House challenge). If this stands at the Supreme Court it could lead to the creation of more Texas minority opportunity districts.

I will have a fuller analysis once I have read all these pages. But for now, here’s a taste.

From the majority opinion:

Plaintiffs have established a § 2 violation, both in terms of intent and effect, in South/West Texas. Plaintiffs have shown that seven compact majority-HCVAP districts could and should be drawn there that would substantially address the § 2 rights of Hispanic voters in South/West Texas, including Nueces County. Defendants’ decision to place Nueces County Hispanic voters in an Anglo district had the effect and was intended to dilute their opportunity to elect their candidate of choice.

Meanwhile, race predominated in the drawing of CD35, and Defendants’ decision to place majority- in Travis County was not to comply with the VRA but to minimize the number of Democrat districts in the plan overall. Plaintiffs have established a Shaw-type equal protection violation with regard to CD35. Plaintiffs also establish a Shaw-type equal protection violation with regard to CD23. In addition, Defendants’ manipulation of Latino voter turnout and cohesion in CD23 denied Latino voters equal opportunity and had the intent and effect of diluting Latino voter opportunity. Nueces County Hispanics and Hispanic voters in CD23 have proved their § 2 results and intentional vote dilution claims. The configurations of CD23, CD27, and CD35 in Plan C185 are therefore invalid.

Plaintiffs fail to proffer a demonstration plan accompanied by sufficient evidence to demonstrate that additional compact minority districts could be drawn in DFW or Houston, taking into account traditional redistricting principles and communities of interest. However, they are not precluded from raising § 2 results claims with regard to Plan C235 during the trial on that plan. Plaintiffs have proved intentional vote dilution through packing and cracking in DFW and also establish a Shaw-type racial gerrymandering claim with regard to CD26, but not CD6. However, they fail to prove intentional vote dilution in the Houston area, and fail to prove that mapdrawers acted with racially discriminatory purpose when drawing the districts represented by the African-American Congresspersons.

Judge Smith dissented, believing that the case is moot. But he reserved his sharpest words for the U.S. Department of Justice’s intervention in this case:

And then there is the United States, appearing through attorneys from the Department of Justice. I have no criticism of their knowledge of the law, and their zeal is, to say the least, more than adequate. But they entered these proceedings with arrogance and condescension. One of the Department’s lawyers even exhibited her contempt for Texas and its representatives and her disdain for these proceedings by regularly rolling her eyes at State witnesses’ answers that she did not like, and she amused herself by chewing gum while court was in session.

It was obvious, from the start, that the DoJ attorneys viewed state officials and the legislative majority and their staffs as a bunch of backwoods hayseed bigots who bemoan the abolition of the poll tax and pine for the days of literacy tests and lynchings. And the DoJ lawyers saw themselves as an expeditionary landing party arriving here, just in time, to rescue the state from oppression, obviously presuming that plaintiffs’ counsel were not up to the task. The Department of Justice moreover views Texas redistricting litigation as the potential grand prize and lusts for the day when it can reimpose preclearance via Section 3(c).

Of course, these are just personal impressions based on demeanor and attitude. More objectively verifiable are the witch hunts and fishing expeditions that the DoJ conducted in pursuit of its goals. I give two examples….

The DoJ wholly failed, but not for lack of trying. There was, and is, no smoking gun in this record, nor has the United States shown that the State hid or failed to disclose one. The DoJ’s scheme to build a record on which to urge opt-in relief via Section 3(c) has initially failed. Of course, if this court is deemed to have jurisdiction, the judges will consider any remaining claims pressed by any party, including Section 3(c) claims, as appropriate.

The Department of Justice has overplayed its hand and, in the process, has lost credibility. The wound is self-inflicted. The grand theory on which its intervention was mainly based—that invidious racial motives infect and predominate in the drawing of the 2011 district lines—has crashed and burned.

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