Abbott v. Perez

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Texas engaged in unlawful redistricting, so the state should be liable when it reaffirms that unlawful decision by reenacting the same unlawful districts without change.  

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In a disappointing decision in June 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the three-judge court’s unanimous finding that the Texas Legislature intentionally discriminated against Blacks and Latinos in drawing its district lines in 2013. While reversing nearly all the lower court’s findings, it affirmed the decision of the district court in favor of...

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About this Case

After the 2011 census, the Texas legislature redrew its congressional and state legislative districts. Because Texas was subject to preclearance under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act due to its history of discriminatory voting practices, the state sought preclearance of its 2011 plans in the District Court for the District of Columbia.

At the same time, various groups of plaintiffs challenged Texas’s 2011 proposed redistricting for the Texas House and for Congress. The plaintiffs alleged the Texas House and Congressional maps were intentionally racially discriminatory in violation of the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act, were unconstitutional racial gerrymanders, and were in violation of the Voting Rights Act prohibition on diluting minority voting strength.

Because the D.C. Court had not precleared the 2011 plan, and based upon guidance from the Supreme Court, the Texas district court was required to draw an interim plan to be used for the 2012 elections, which were rapidly approaching. A subset of the plaintiffs and the state agreed on a compromise plan, which other plaintiffs opposed. The district court adopted the compromise plan, while expressly reserving the right to alter its analysis upon a full review of the evidence at trial.

In June 2013, shortly before the Supreme Court invalided the coverage formula for Section 5 with its decision in Shelby County v. Holder, the legislature passed a bill repealing the 2011 plans, and enacting in their place the interim plan used for the 2012 elections, with minor changes to the state house plan.  The day after Shelby County was announced, the Governor signed the legislation.

The plaintiffs amended their complaints to raise claims against the 2013 plans, and to assert a claim for relief under Section 3(c) of the Voting Rights Act, to require Texas to be “bailed in” to the preclearance regime as a consequence of its intentionally discriminatory redistricting plans. (Read more about preclearance.)

The district court held trials on the 2011 and 2013 plans. The court concluded that the 2011 plan was intentionally discriminatory with respect to a number of districts because it cracked and packed minority voters, was an unconstitutional gerrymander with respect to several districts, and contained violations of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, both in intent and effects, with respect to several districts.

Following a trial on the 2013 plan, the district court concluded that the districts that were unlawful in the 2011 plan that were retained in the 2013 plan remained unlawful.

Texas now contends that because the district court did not alter those districts when it approved the interim plan, despite announcing its approval was tepid and temporary and without the benefit of a full evidentiary record, the district court was wrong to conclude the districts were unlawful. In CLC's amicus brief filed with the Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund on April 4, 2018, we state our belief that states should not be able to insulate themselves from judicial review for unlawful redistricting simply by cloaking themselves under the cover of a temporary court ruling that was expressly confined and declared subject to change. Rather, when a state engages in unlawful redistricting, the state should be liable when it reaffirms that unlawful decision by reenacting the same unlawful districts without change.

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