Congressional district lines motivated by race
EDDIE BERNICE JOHNSON | 3/27/2017, 8:14 a.m.
U.S. House of Representatives
After a tumultuous fight discussing voting rights and the new laws enacted in Texas during the previous election year, a panel of federal judges ruled that three congressional districts in Texas are illegally drawn and that race was a motivating factor used in redistricting. In a 2-1 decision, it was found that the redistricting violates the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act. The majority opinion was provided by one Republican and written by a Democratic judge who addresses the long painstaking impacts of discrimination throughout cities and towns in Texas.
Redistricting typically takes place after a census is conducted, that is every 10 years – the last census taken was in 2010, and the lines were redrawn in 2011. The decision names at least five congressional districts in Texas (23, 26, 27, 30 and 35) that were formed in part from illegal discrimination during the 2011 redrawing. It held that three congressional districts – specifically, Congressional District 23, which extends from Bexar County through West Texas and is represented by Republican Rep. Will Hurd; Congressional District 27, that includes portions of Nueces County and is represented by Republican Rep. Black Farenthold; and Congressional District 35, that extends from Bexar County to Travis County represented by Democrat Rep. Lloyd Doggett, were all illegally drawn. Additionally, the ruling found that District 30, the district that I represent, is one of the metropolitan areas that was “packed” and “cracked” intentionally with minority voters. “Packing” occurs when voters are placed in one specific district, and “cracking” occurs when one group is intentionally spread across districts.
In regards to Congressional District 35, the court noted that this seat was drawn with the intent not only of eliminating Congressman Lloyd Doggett, but taking his seat and using it to replace an existing Hispanic Opportunity seat. It held that there was an unnecessary predominance on race in the drawing of this district. Discrimination was identified primarily as the overreach to garner Hispanics to place in the district, but the court noted that the African American community in Austin was also unnecessarily split.
Furthermore, in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, the court held that Congressional District 30 was a district that needed almost no change before redistricting but that the legislature split 31 precincts and placed many minority voters into the district unnecessarily, possibly to dilute minority votes. The state’s defense for reasons of splitting the precincts was held not credible.
The most recent ruling in Perez v. Abbott is pivotal at these times as the community continues to express its willingness to be more involved and speak on issues that impact their daily lives. There must be a precedent set in our state showing that the voters make the decision fairly and without influence of those they choose to represent them in our government. We are chosen to represent the people and to act on behalf of their best interests and not on our own. I will definitely speak out and urge that lines be withdrawn fairly prior to the 2018 election. Due to the recent decision made and evidence presented to the judges, I believe this shows the importance of restoring the Voting Rights Act protections as soon as possible.
U.S. Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson is the ranking member of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology and the highest-ranking Texan on the House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure. She represents the 30th Congressional District of Texas.