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Federal panel rules Texas redistricting plan hurts minorities

[JURIST] A special federal judicial panel in the US District Court for the Western District of Texas [official website] on Thursday ruled [order, PDF] that the redistricting plan adopted by the Texas legislature was drawn to deliberately diminish the influence of the growing Latino voting population. The panel, comprised of US District Judges Xavier Rodriguez and Orlando Garcia and 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Jerry Smith, ruled 2-1, with Judge Smith dissenting in the opinion. Specifically, this panel found [fact-findings, PDF] that the map was drawn in order to protect incumbent Republican candidates by drawing an electoral map that did not create any new minority opportunity districts or enhance minority voting strength. The newly redrawn boundaries achieved their goals by fragmenting Latino populations into multiple districts or putting them all in one district to reduce their overall voting power. Some of Texas' largest cities were included in this boundary-drawing controversy, including Dallas, San Antonio, and Houston.

Issues of gerrymandering and voting rights have become increasingly prevalent over the the past year. This decision comes after a similar court ruled [JURIST report] that the boundaries of three voting districts in Texas violated the Voting Rights Act and the Equal Protection Clause of the US Constitution [texts] by discriminating against Latino voters. Earlier in March, the US Supreme Court ruled [JURIST report] that Virginia's redistricting scheme must be examined for racial bias. Additionally, in January, a three-judge panel for the US District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin ordered the state legislature [JURIST report] to redraw legislative district lines by November 1. Earlier in January, the US Supreme Court blocked [JURIST report] a ruling ordering the redrawing of the congressional district map and special elections to be held in North Carolina. This came after the Supreme Court heard arguments [JURIST report] in racial gerrymandering cases from Virginia and North Carolina in December. In September, several organizations filed a federal lawsuit challenging Georgia's voter registration system [JURIST report].

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