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The Justice Department Sues Texas For Violating The Voting Rights Act

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland announced on Tuesday that the Department of Justice is suing the state of Texas for violating the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by illegally gerrymandering the state’s political districts. This is the second lawsuit filed by the DOJ in the last two months against Texas, alleging racial discrimination in new voting laws and policies. The new lawsuit accuses Texas of racial gerrymandering for redrawing congressional district lines in ways that benefit white, mostly republican voters while diluting the voting power of Latino and Black voters.

The lawsuit comes as Texas, like many other states, is in the process of redrawing its congressional district lines in response to the population data gathered from the 2020 U.S. Census. Because of population growth, Texas gained two new seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. Despite the fact that nearly all of the population growth within Texas happened within the state’s Latino, Black and Asian populations, the two new districts being created are both majority white. As CNN reports, the DOJ also notes in its lawsuit that Texas has also split or eliminated non-white majority districts in the state. During the DOJ press conference, Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta declared “several of those districts were drawn with discriminatory intent.”

The current round of redistricting is the first to be conducted in the aftermath of important changes to federal election laws made by the Supreme Court. In 2013, the Court decided in a 5-4 ruling to effectively strike down a section of the Voting Rights Act that required states and locations with a history of voter discrimination, including Texas, to get preclearance from the federal government before making changes to their voting laws. “Were that preclearance tool still in place,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said as he announced the new suit, “we would likely not be here today, announcing this complaint.”

Since the 2013 ruling, a number of republican-controlled states, especially in the South, have implemented restrictive voting laws. This trend accelerated after the 2020 election, when pandemic-inspired voting changes led to increased voter participation, especially among Black and other minority populations. As Blavity previously reported, a number of democratic state lawmakers famously left Texas for Washington, D.C. earlier this year in an attempt to block the republican-controlled legislature from passing restrictive voting laws. These laws specifically targeted mail-in ballots and other easy-access voting reforms, implemented in 2020 because of the pandemic, that benefited Black voters in Houston and surrounding Harris County.

Texas eventually passed these voter restrictions, and last month, the Department of Justice filed a suit against Texas over these restrictions, arguing that they violated the Voting Rights Act. In addition to restrictions on voting procedures, Texas has also criminally charged at least two Black voters for felony voter fraud for voting while on parole, which is barred under state law. Groups like the ACLU have accused Texas of using these prosecutions as a form of voter intimidation.

In announcing the new charges against Texas, Attorney General Garland repeated his own calls for new voting rights legislation that would restore voting options and reestablish the preclearance procedure. Several democratic proposals, such as the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, have been blocked by congressional republicans, while republican-controlled states like Texas and Georgia implemented restrictive laws and redraw district lines to favor white voters and GOP candidates.

“Texas republicans are so desperate to cling to power they gerrymandered illegal maps that silence Latino, Black and Asian American voters,.” tweeted Julián Castro, former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and once Mayor of San Antonio, soon after the DOJ’s announcement. “I’m glad the Justice Department is taking them to Court. It’s time for congress to step up and pass new voting rights legislation.”

As Castro’s comments indicate, the current lawsuit is already adding pressure for congress to pass voting rights reform, even if it means that the democratic-controlled Senate has to alter the filibuster rules that have allowed the republican minority to block these laws in the Senate. With midterm elections less than a year away, the time for congress and the Biden administration to act on voting rights is passing quickly.

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