Texas Republicans were dealt a blow Tuesday when a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., rejected the political jurisdictions drawn by state lawmakers in spring 2011.
The ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals does not affect the November general election, which is using temporary boundaries reached while Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott defended the GOP-favored lines.
Abbott said Tuesday he would appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. The ruling affects state House and Senate districts as well as Texas’ four new congressional seats, according to Associated Press.
The justices, in a 154-page decision, held that lawmakers did not draw districts, “...without discriminatory purposes,” drawing harsh criticism from members of the GOP.
“That’s dumber than dirt,” said Gregg County Republican Chairman Keith Rothra. “We have drawn our congressional districts and duly argued we did not do it on a racial basis.”
East Texas Republican Reps. David Simpson and Bryan Hughes, the latter of whom hopes to guide the House as its next speaker, did not return messages Tuesday afternoon.
Rothra cited U.S. Supreme Court decisions of the past two decades holding that lines for political boundaries cannot use racial factors as the primary criterion.
That’s what the judges in Washington, D.C., just did, he said.
“And now the court is telling us we’re unconstitutional because we did not use race as a criterion, because we did not put proper deference into the influx of the Hispanic population?” Rothra asked.
Population growth outpacing all other states earned Texas four new congressional districts. Florida was next, with two new seats in the U.S. House.
But that growth was fueled by Hispanic populations, and to a lesser extent new black Texans. The Legislature in 2011 emerged from its once-a-decade redraw with two new Republican and two new Democratic districts, which along with state House and Senate maps were put on hold while challenges by minority groups went through the courts.
“They got greedy in their redistricting efforts,” Gregg County Democratic advocate Vic Verma said of Republicans, who held 101 of 150 Texas House seats during the session. “Instead of trying to follow the law, they thought they could take an opportunity, because of the super majority, to run roughshod over the law. Redistricting did hurt Democrats, but I think the big issue is it hurt minorities.”
Minorities historically have voted Democrat.
“When you look at the demographic changes in the state and the Hispanic growth — they did not take it into account,” Verma said. “And I think the court agreed with that.”
Branden Johnson, president of the Longview chapter of the NAACP, hailed the ruling as a victory. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is a plaintiff in the lawsuit.
“Some of the lines they drew are ridiculous,” he said, noting one congressional district stretching from Austin into San Antonio.
He noted another redraw that moved three state lawmakers physically into new districts.
“And the only three people affected were three black state representatives,” Johnson said. “Their houses were redrawn into another district. That’s the discrimination, when only one racial group is selected out.”