SAN ANTONIO — Texas Republican lawmakers discriminated against minority voters while drawing new political boundaries, a federal court ruled Tuesday, rejecting a plan pushed by the state's GOP leaders in a decision that likely comes too late to affect the November elections but is set to reverberate to 2014.
In some cases, black congressional members in Texas had economic drivers such as sporting arenas freshly carved out of their districts, though "no such surgery" was performed on any belonging to white incumbents, according to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
"Anglo district boundaries were redrawn to include particular country clubs and, in one case, the school belonging to the incumbent's grandchildren," said U.S. Circuit Judge Thomas Griffith, writing the 154-page opinion for the three-judge panel.
The long-awaited decision was hailed as a sweeping victory by minority rights groups that sued the state after the Republican-controlled Legislature pushed through new redistricting maps last year. The court concluded that the maps didn't comply with the federal Voting Rights Act and that state attorneys failed to prove that Texas lawmakers did not draw new congressional and state Senate districts "without discriminatory purposes."
But with just two months until Election Day, the fallout from the ruling is unlikely to be felt until new maps are installed for 2014. Instead, voters in Texas this November will use interim political maps drawn last year by a different three-judge panel in San Antonio. That court is handling the lawsuit filed by minority groups, while the Washington panel took up the separate issue of whether the maps met the Voting Rights Act.
Known as seeking "preclearance," Texas and eight other, predominantly southern, states with a history of racial bias must submit their political maps to the U.S. Justice Department for compliance. State prosecutors, however, sought preclearance through the federal court in Washington rather than through the Justice Department.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott vowed to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, saying Tuesday's ruling "extends the Voting Rights Act beyond the limits intended by Congress and beyond the boundaries imposed by the Constitution."
Opponents said the state's strategy of skirting the Justice Department backfired. Luis Vera, an attorney for the League of United Latin American Citizens, said the ruling was "better late than never" and an unequivocal win for his and other minority rights groups that sued the state.
"The three-judge panel unanimously found intentional discrimination across the state. There's no ifs, ands, or buts about it," Vera said, noting that he and other attorneys closely read the lengthy opinion before trumpeting any conclusions.