Perry, Texas Lawmakers Accused at Trial of Election-Map BiasLaurel Brubaker Calkins
Texas governor and U.S. presidential candidate Rick Perry faces allegations in a trial that he intentionally distorted congressional districts with the help of Republican lawmakers to prevent Latinos from winning office.
The state has a four-decade history of violating minority voting rights that has required court intervention, Jose Garza, a lawyer for the Mexican American Legislative Caucus of the state Legislature, said today in federal court in San Antonio.
“Whether the Legislature was controlled by Democrats or Republicans, it didn’t matter,” Garza told a three-judge panel. “Redistricting was always done on the backs of minorities.”
Rolando Rios, a lawyer for U.S. Representative Henry Cuellar, another plaintiff, said, “Texas has never given anything to Latinos that it hasn’t been forced to by the courts.”
The majority-Republican Legislature redrew congressional district maps after the state grew enough to gain four seats in Congress, adding almost 4.3 million residents since 2000 according to the 2010 census.
Hispanics, who have historically voted more often for Democrats, accounted for about 65 percent of the increase. Republicans hold 23 of Texas’s current 32 congressional seats.
A lawyer for the state defended the redistricting, saying the Legislature created 22 so-called Latino opportunity districts among the 36 new ones. Latinos comprise 25 percent of voting-age citizens, he said.
Deputy Attorney General David Schenck, defending the map, disputed the view that white voters don’t support minority candidates.
“Whites are voting for and electing African-American and Latino candidates at record levels,” Schenck told the judges. “They just happen to be Republicans.”
State lawmakers “employed gerrymandering techniques such as packing and cracking of minority communities” to limit the odds that Latinos would win the new seats, according to criticism summarized in a ruling last week by the panel hearing the nonjury trial.
Perry, 61, who is running for the Republican presidential nomination, signed the bill with the election map created in June by legislators. Texas officials presented the map for administrative “pre-clearance” by the Obama administration under the Voting Rights Act, a step required of all states with a history of violations.
Governor, State Sued
Congressional representatives whose jobs are threatened by the redistricting plan sued Perry and the state to block approval of the map, as did Hispanic voting-rights organizations and Travis County, which includes the capital, Austin.
Democrat Barack Obama outpolled Republican John McCain 64 percent to 34 percent in the county in the 2008 presidential election. The city and county were splintered under the redistricting plan.
If the new map is approved, “the Legislature’s blatant racial gerrymandering will effectively prevent minority voters from having any meaningful impact on congressional elections for the next 10 years,” lawyers representing Travis County and Austin said in court papers.
“The congresspersons contend the plan unnecessarily splits politically cohesive minority groups, and is designed to minimize or cancel out minority voting strength, both now and in the future,” U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia in San Antonio wrote in a Sept. 2 order allowing most of the racial gerrymandering claims to go to trial.
“You see these ridiculous shapes, with lines weaving in and out of neighborhoods and splitting hundreds of precincts throughout the state, predominantly in Latino and minority communities,” Luis Vera, a lawyer for the League of United Latin American Citizens, said today in court. “This is done by people in power to fracture the Latino community.”
Given the rise in the Texas Hispanic population, the new map “may be the last hurrah of a political party trying to hold on to political power,” Vera said.
State Attorney General Greg Abbott said earlier that critics can’t draw a better map.
“The evidence shows conclusively that the dispersal of population across the state makes it impossible to draw additional congressional districts consisting of a majority of Latino or African-American voters,” Abbott said in court papers.
Abbott also said that, to throw out the map, opponents must prove “the state acted with specific intent to discriminate on the basis of race and not, for example, on the basis of political affiliation.”
At a pretrial hearing last week, state Assistant Attorney General David Mattax told the judges they will have to draw their own map if they reject the one created by the Legislature. Lawmakers can’t reconvene in time to devise a new plan without delaying a November filing deadline for candidates, he said.
Perry announced he was entering the presidential race Aug. 13. Eight days later he moved into the lead among candidates for the nomination, according to a Gallup poll.
“The Legislature determined and approved the map, and the governor signed it and believes it went through a fair process,” Catherine Frazier, a Perry spokeswoman, said yesterday in a phone interview.
The case is Perez v. Perry, 11-cv-00360, U.S. District Court, Western District of Texas (San Antonio).