At stake in Texas is the next presidential election. All but two of Texas' 38 federal electors voted in December 2016 to officially put Donald Trump in the White House. One elector cast a ballot for Ohio Gov. John Kasich and another casting a ballot for a fellow Texan, former U.S. Rep. Ron Paul. Thus the Texas votes clinched the presidency for Trump, having pushed him past the 270-vote threshold. A recent court decision in Texas may put a future Electoral College vote in jeopardy for Trump’s re-election campaign.
The number of electors for each state is determined by the number of US Senators and Representatives. There are a total of 538 electors, corresponding to the 435 Representatives and 100 Senators, in addition to the three electors for the District of Columbia as determined by the 23rd Amendment.
Intentional discrimination against minorities
A three-judge federal panel in San Antonio unanimously ruled on August 24 that Texas must address certain alleged violations of the Voting Rights Act and the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution, having concluded that state legislators intentionally discriminated against racial and ethnic minorities in the drawing of several Texas state legislative districts. The borders of those state legislative districts covering four counties, according to the panel, were intentionally drawn so as to diminish the voting power of minorities and thus “ensure Anglo control” of those districts.
The 83-page ruling was the latest step in a six-year legal battle that may wind up in the U.S. Supreme Court.
Here follows a list of the counties and districts at issue:
HD 103, currently represented by Democrat Rafael Anchia, HD 104, represented by Democrat Roberto Alonzo and HD 105, represented by Republican Rodney Anderson
HD 32, represented by Republican Todd Hunter, and HD 34, represented by Democrat Abel Herrero
HD 54, represented by Republican Scott Cosper, and HD 55, represented by Republican Hugh Shine
HD 90, represented by Democrat Ramon Romero, and HD 93 represented by Matt Krause.
If the borders of those districts are changed, races in the rest of Texas could be affected.
In the ruling, the panel wrote that it had found, for example, evidence of inadmissible discrimination on the part of mapmakers with regard to Texas state legislative district lines in Bell County:
“However, the Court found evidence that mapdrawers (specifically Anglo Republican HD54 incumbent Jimmy Don Aycock) intentionally racially gerrymandered the district by cracking minority population, thus diluting the minority vote to ensure Anglo control over both remaining districts. Rather than respecting the boundaries of the City of Killeen, which included significant minority population and had been mostly within HD54 in the benchmark, he and mapdrawers split the City to divide its minority population. Plans were introduced by minority members that would have kept the City more whole, but they were rejected.”
According to the ruling:
“Rep. Aycock, who drew the configuration, offered unconvincing and pretextual explanations for the split (such as that portions of the Killeen community were more of a community of interest with Lampasas than with the remainder of Killeen), leading the Court to find that the decision to split Killeen and the minority community within it (removing minorities from HD54 and moving in Anglos) was to ensure that HD54 and HD55 remained Anglo-majority and to make HD54 less likely to perform for minority voters.”
In a footnote to the decision, the document noted that it used data provided by the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, noting it had evidence of “racially polarized voting in Bell County.” It said that:
“Anglos make up 55% of the adult population in Bell County, African Americans 21%, Latinos 19%, and Asians/Others 5%.” MALC’s analysis showed that in each of the previous federal elections, “‘there were clear patterns of severe polarization between Anglo voters, on the one hand[,] and Latino, African American voters, and Asian voters, on the other.” It added that 9 in 10 Anglos preferred the Republican candidate while at least 8 in 10 Latinos and Asians and about 9 in 10 African Americans supported the Democrat.”
In an earlier decision, the judges had ruled that the Texas Legislature intentionally weakened the relative strength of Latino and black voters while drawing the map for US House of Representatives districts in 2011. However, the 2011 map never actually took effect because the court drew temporary maps before the 2012 elections. State legislators then formally adopted the map in 2013 with few changes. Texas has used that map for the past three election cycles. By adopting the 2013 map, the court ruled that lawmakers “purposefully maintained the intentional discrimination” found in the previous map.
On August 15, the same court invalidated two U.S. congressional districts — the 27th, which is represented by Rep. Blake Farenthold (R) of Corpus Christi, and the 35th, which is represented by Lloyd Doggett (D) of Austin. It required that those districts be reconfigured after ruling that the Texas legislature had discriminated against minority voters.
Judges had approved voting districts that they later ruled against
The court ordered Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, in both the congressional and state House rulings, to convey whether the Texas legislature will conduct redistricting in order to address the alleged violations in the districting maps. So far, neither Gov. Greg Abbott nor Attorney General Paxton appear anxious to call Texas legislators back to the capitol to address voting district maps. Paxton plans to take his case to the U.S. Supreme Court. In a statement he released on August 24, Paxton declared, “The judges held that maps they themselves adopted violate the law,” adding, “Needless to say, we will appeal.”
The State of Texas and the parties that sued over the district maps will see their day in court on September 5. In the most recent ruling, the Texas court indicated that they should also be ready to meet on September 6 to ponder changes to the district maps.
Victory for minority advocacy groups
The ruling was a victory for groups such as the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund (MALDEF) and others that represent minority voters. Nina Perales of MALDEF told the Texas Tribune that Texas had “racially gerrymandered its voting districts and used Latino voters as pawns in doing so,” as she looked forward to the “fast approaching” 2018 election cycle.
At issue is whether the approval of the district boundaries by the judges will delay the coming March 2018 primary races. Sen. Ted Cruz won in an upset victory in 2012, for example, due to primaries that were delayed by legal issues. Local elections officials will need to know the boundaries by October of this year.
The plaintiffs to the lawsuit against Gov. Abbott included: the Texas Latino Redistricting Task Force (“an unincorporated association of individuals and organizations committed to securing fair redistricting plans for Texas”), Hispanics Organized for Political Education (“HOPE”), the Mexican American Bar Association of Texas (“MABA”), the National Organization for Mexican American Rights (“NOMAR”), Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, the William C. Velasquez Institute, the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, and the Southwest Workers’ Union. The plaintiffs also included: Texas State Conference of local chapters of the NAACP and individual members of the NAACP in various counties.
These groups have long been associated with get-out-the-vote efforts, especially for the Democratic Party, as well as efforts to advance minority rights. In California, for example, the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project was represented by a law firm in Menlo Park that argued that town council elections violate the Voting Rights Act. Using an arguement familiar in Texas, attorney Kevin Shenkman of Malibu-based law firm Shenkman & Hughes contended in a letter to the city on August 14 that the current at-large election of council members at large instead of by district violates the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) of 2001 by discriminating against minorities, who primarily reside in the Belle Haven district. Shenkman wrote: “At-large elections … allow a bare majority of voters to control every seat, not just the seats in a particular district or a proportional majority of seats … (and) often result in ‘vote dilution,’ or the impairment of minority groups’ ability to elect their preferred candidates or influence the outcome of elections, which occurs when the electorate votes in a racially polarized manner.”
The case in Texas was heard by a panel of three judges in the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas, in San Antonio. The judges were Chief District Judge Orlando Garcia, District Judge Xavier Rodriguez, and Circuit Judge Jerry Edwin Smith. Garcia was nominated to the bench by Bill Clinton; he ruled in 2014 to overturn Texas’ ban on same-sex marriage. In June 2017, he received the Reynaldo G. Garza Lifetime Achievement Award from by the State Bar of Texas Hispanic Issues Section.
Rodriguez was nominated by George W. Bush, having briefly served on the Supreme Court of Texas. Smith was nominated to the bench by Ronald Reagan, and sits on the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which covers Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas.