Texas almost finished with House map, and is already being sued

GOP backs off putting Jackson Lee in same district as Green

Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee had objected to a version of a new Texas map that would have put her in the same district as Democratic Rep. Al Green. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee had objected to a version of a new Texas map that would have put her in the same district as Democratic Rep. Al Green. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted October 19, 2021 at 11:19am, Updated at 3:35pm

Republicans in the Texas Legislature have approved the state’s new congressional map — and were immediately met with a lawsuit alleging they maximized their power at the expense of Latinos and other minority groups. 

The Lone Star State’s House delegation is growing to 38, with two new districts in the Austin and Houston areas, and the redrawn map could result in Republican gains. The League of United Latin American Citizens, or LULAC, a civil rights organization, filed a federal lawsuit immediately after the late Monday legislative approval, alleging that the map minimizes the political gains of Latinos.

People identifying as Hispanic or Latino made up half of the nearly 4 million increase in Texas’ population between 2010 to 2020, but the new map reduced the number of Latino majority districts from eight to seven, the suit said.

“The significant growth of the Latino population in Texas since 2010 allowed Texas to gain one, if not both, of its two new congressional districts. Despite the growth of the Latino population over the past decade, [the plan] dilutes Latino voting strength by failing to create any additional [Latino] majority congressional districts,” the suit said.

Texas was the only state to gain two House districts following the 2020 census, as seats shifted from California and states along the Great Lakes to the South and West. Growth in minority communities, particularly Asian American and Hispanic or Latino populations, drove much of those shifts.

With Democrats holding a five-seat majority in the House, maps in states like Texas could help decide control of that chamber in the 2022 midterm elections. Republicans currently hold a 23-13 edge in the state’s House delegation.

Under the new map, President Donald Trump would have carried 25 seats in Texas last fall, including the new Houston-area district, up from the 22 that he actually won, The Texas Tribune reported. Trump would also have carried the 15th District in South Texas, which Joe Biden narrowly won under the current lines and where Democrat Vicente Gonzalez won reelection by less than 2 points.

Gonzalez’s home in McAllen has been moved to the new 34th District, the Tribune reported, and he is considering running there. Democrat Filemon Vela, the incumbent for the current 34th District, announced in March that he would not seek reelection.

The Legislature’s approval Monday of the new map — which now awaits Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s signature — makes Texas the first state previously subject to Justice Department rules requiring “preclearance” under the Voting Rights Act to finalize its congressional map. In 2013, the Supreme Court invalidated the preclearance formula used for Texas and other Southern states.

House Democrats have passed a bill to reinstate preclearance, but it has not advanced in the Senate, where Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has called it a federal “power grab.” But even without those efforts, the new map could face legal challenges, in addition to the one filed by LULAC. Litigation over Texas’ last round of redistricting lasted until 2018.

Activist groups such as Our Vote Texas protested Republicans’ handling of the process as well as the effort to minimize the increase in representation for Black, Latino and Asian American Texans, according to the group’s president, Valerie Street.

“Communities of color made up almost all of the growth in the state, but you wouldn’t know it from how this map looks,” Street said. “There’s a lot of frustration over the fracturing of communities of color.”

Additionally, the state House’s Democratic caucus threatened legal action over the “illegal racial gerrymander” in the maps. 

“Make no mistake — this redistricting plan will undoubtedly land Texas in court once again, and the very Texans who have been denied fair representation will also be on the hook for the legal costs of defending this map,” state Rep. Chris Turner, the caucus chair, said in a statement Sunday.

Experts expect dozens of similar lawsuits over new congressional maps during this round of redistricting in both state and federal courts. Advocacy groups have pledged to pursue claims under the Voting Rights Act in federal courts and to use state claims to argue the new maps unfairly help one party over another.

The Texas Legislature did back off one change under consideration, tweaking the Houston-area districts where Democratic Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee and Al Green both live. The change kept the two in separate seats, while an earlier draft had drawn them into the same one.

Both Green and Jackson Lee sent a letter to the state redistricting committee arguing against the new map’s radical shifts to their districts, including moving Jackson Lee into Green’s district.

Both districts are protected under the Voting Rights Act and “the pairing of the two occupants of these districts … and the unnecessary surgery done on their districts is clearly an act of racial discrimination,” the pair wrote. 

Several candidates have already filed to run in the two new districts in Texas. Democratic Rep. Lloyd Doggett, who currently represents the 35th District that stretches between Austin and San Antonio, announced over the weekend he would instead run in the newly created deep-blue 37th District centered around Austin.

Republican Wesley Hunt announced last month that he intends to run in the new 38th District in the Houston area, a safe Republican seat. This is Hunt’s second bid for Congress after narrowly losing to Democratic Rep. Lizzie Fletcher in the nearby 7th District last fall.