When a panel of federal judges struck down a request Wednesday that Texas be placed under supervision when it next draws its voting districts in 2021, they might as well have put up a banner at the front of the capital in Austin saying, “Welcome back Republicans, class of 2022.”
A coalition of citizens of color, Democratic lawmakers and civil rights groups attempted to persuade judges to place Texas’ redistricting back under federal oversight based on past examples of state lawmakers drawing voting districts based on believed racial discrimination, according to the Texas Tribune. But citing the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision that the Voting Rights Act was antiquated, the panel was hesitant to do so and rejected the request.
When lawmakers meet in Austin again in 2021 to redefine voting districts for legislators and members of Congress, the only thing that should matter is having representatives who reflect the true interests of the state’s population, not drawing lines that reflect the views of the architects.
“Although the Court’s findings of intentional racial discrimination in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment with regard to the 2011 plans are sufficient to trigger bail-in, and although the Court has serious concerns about the State’s past conduct, the various requests for discretionary relief ... are hereby denied,” wrote Judge Xavier Rodriguez of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas.
In other words, the panel of federal judges this week didn’t think the complaints by the plaintiffs were invalid, it’s just the court didn’t see it fit to intervene in how Texas creates its districts.
While it is tempting to point fingers at the court in this case, the panel was operating under a precedent set by the U.S. Supreme Court, which is how the federal court system is supposed to work.
But much of the blame should be placed on lawmakers. As the judges pointed out, the complaints weren’t found to be erroneous.
So why does Texas continue to have complaints of racial discrimination in creating voting districts continue?
The problem likely lies in Texas’ changing demographics and voting patterns being treated as a problem to be minimized, and not a natural shifting of values.
If the state is becoming more Hispanic, realigning districts to marginalize voters of that ethnicity flies in the face of representative democracy. And the same goes for urbanization, liberalism, racial and any other set of values that might be changing as Texas adds hundreds of thousands of citizens each year.
Those in Austin might not like what they are seeing, but that shouldn’t stop them from doing their job in a fair, equitable manner. They are supposed to make sure the state of Texas is wholly and appropriately represented in Austin and Washington. While each voting district might not be an exact percentage of a certain race or voting base, on average it should even out. A district near Amarillo will look nothing like that of one of the many sprawling districts that reaches out from Austin, grasping at rural votes.
There is nothing wrong with Texas being a conservative stronghold. Nor is there a problem with it being a liberal bastion. But that should be up to voters, not lawmakers.
Texas is a rapidly changing state, and that needs to be reflected.
According to the Texas Demographic Center, in 1910, 24.1 percent of Texans lived in urban areas. In 2010, that number was up to 84.7 percent.
How lawmakers have coped with this might not be apparent in the House, but in the Senate, wide regions of the state with likely varying values are melded together. Texas Senate District 21 stretches from the Mexico border to downtown Austin. Houston looks like a tie-dye T-shirt due to its many divisions.
Making a fair map is likely a huge undertaking, and there will never be a perfectly fair map, but Texas has proven itself to not take that responsibility seriously.
The next set of districts will likely also be challenged in court, but the door is not closed on the issue of federal oversight. Texas can be “bailed in” to federal oversight if outright voter discrimination based on color or ethnicity can be proven.
Lawmakers in 2021 should take their duty of representing Texans seriously unless they want to have Washington, D.C., chaperone in their elections.