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A year and half after it was first approved, the Texas Senate on Monday voted to rubber-stamp a map setting the chamber’s political districts, which increased the Senate’s Republican majority and undercut the political power of voters of color.
The boundaries of the state’s political maps were redrawn in 2021, but the 23-7 vote was a procedural step to meet legal requirements. The state constitution requires legislative districts be redrawn in the first regular session after the results of the decennial census are published. But the delays of the COVID-19 pandemic pushed the release of the 2020 census results past the end of the last regularly scheduled session in May 2021.
Lawmakers redrew the state’s political maps to incorporate a decade’s worth of explosive population growth later in the year during a specially called legislative session. The districts were then used during the 2022 elections.
State Sen. Joan Huffman, the Houston Republican who led the chamber’s redistricting process in 2021, described the vote on Senate Bill 375 as a “culmination” of the chamber’s redistricting work, including meeting constitutional obligations.
No members of the Senate submitted proposed amendments to the map. Several changes proposed by members of the public were rejected, Huffman said, because they did not align with her stated redistricting objectives, including “partisan considerations,” equalizing population across the districts and preserving communities of interest.
The Senate map is one target of broad federal litigation challenging how the Republican-controlled Legislature used the once-a-decade redistricting process to draw maps solidifying the GOP’s political dominance while weakening the influence of voters of color.
A large collection of individual voters and organizations representing voters of color argue Texas lawmakers discriminated — in some cases intentionally — against them. Texans of color were behind 95% of the population growth captured in the 2020 census, but their power was actually diminished in the maps when measured by their ability to meaningfully affect elections. They are joined by the U.S. Department of Justice in their legal challenge.
The new maps for Congress and the Texas House shrink the number of districts in which eligible Hispanic and Black voters can realistically sway election outcomes. In the Senate map, Senate District 10 in the Fort Worth area was altered so that some Black and Hispanic populations previously in District 10 were split into two other districts.
The Black and Hispanic voters that remained in District 10, in urban areas of south Fort Worth, were lumped in with several rural, mostly white counties to the south and west, driving up the district’s population of white eligible voters while diminishing the number of voters of color.
The federal three-judge panel overseeing the redistricting case previously denied a request by Tarrant County residents to block the reconfiguration of SD-10 from being used in last year’s elections while they pursued their legal challenge.
The state has argued that the reconfiguration was motivated by partisanship, not race, and that the plaintiffs were unable to prove that race was the predominant factor motivating the Legislature’s action. The changes to the district offered Republicans an easier path to pick up the seat in the Republican-controlled chamber.
Huffman, the chamber’s chief map-drawer, said throughout the 2021 redistricting process that the maps were drawn “race-blind” and were presented to legal counsel who cleared them as compliant with federal law meant to protect voters of color from discrimination.
She has repeatedly declined to disclose how they reached that conclusion, though. In a deposition for the SD-10 challenge, Huffman invoked legislative privilege to shield herself from answering questions about her considerations while redrawing the district.
The Senate reapproved its map while the challenge to the Legislature’s redistricting work remains in legal limbo. The three-judge panel in charge of the case has yet to reschedule a trial over the new political maps after delaying a September 2022 trial because of disputes over discovery that left both the state and the various plaintiff groups questioning whether they’d have enough time to prepare to make their cases in a federal court in El Paso.
The Senate map now heads for reapproval in the House, where its redistricting committee is just beginning its work to reapprove the map it adopted in 2021 for the House’s 150 districts.
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