A three-judge panel for the US District Court for the Western District of Texas [official website] held [opinion, PDF] on Tuesday that two congressional districts were invalid. A panel composed of Circuit Judge Smith, Chief District Judge Garcia and District Judge Rodriguez found that District 27 and District 35 were invalid pursuant to the Voting Rights Act [materials] and the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution. District 27 was found to be invalid because it was drawn to deny Hispanic voters the opportunity to elect candidates of their choice, and District 35 was found to be invalid because race was the primary factor in drawing the district. Central to the controversy was the removal of Nueces County, a predominantly Hispanic area, into District 27 and the placement of Travis County into District 35. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said [press release] the state plans to appeal this ruling to the US Supreme Court.
Voting rights and how voters are grouped and counted has become and increasingly important issue over the past year. In June the US Supreme Court agreed [JURIST report] to hear a Wisconsin gerrymandering case. Earlier in June the Supreme Court affirmed [JURIST report] a lower court decision striking down a North Carolina state House and Senate redistricting effort as racial gerrymandering that disproportionately impacted black voters. In May the Supreme Court ruled [JURIST report] in Cooper v. Harris [SCOTUSblog materials] that North Carolina’s redistricting of Districts 1 and 12 was unconstitutional because the state “made no attempt to justify race-based districting there.” In January the Department of Justice sued [JURIST report] Detroit suburbs over a potential Voting Rights Act violation regarding the ability of minorities to elect other minority members as council members. In April of last year the Supreme Court unanimously upheld [JURIST report] an Arizona commission’s decisions regarding the redistricting of voting districts in the state.