AUSTIN — The Texas Legislature’s redraw of a Tarrant County state senate district can be used in elections while challenges against the new political maps play out in court, a panel of federal judges ruled Tuesday.
The special three-judge federal district court denied challengers’ request to block the redrawn Senate District 10 from being used in the March 1 primary election. The plaintiffs had argued the new lines intentionally discriminate against minority voters.
“After careful consideration of the parties’ arguments and four days of testimony and evidentiary submissions, and for reasons to be stated in a forthcoming opinion, the Court finds that the Brooks Plaintiffs have not satisfied the requirements necessary to obtain a preliminary injunction,” wrote U.S. District Judge David C. Guaderrama, on behalf of the panel.
The decision is likely headed for an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. A trial over the lawsuit and several others challenging the state’s redistricting plans drafted in the Republican-dominated Legislature is scheduled to start in September.
Democratic state Sen. Beverly Powell and six other Tarrant County citizens contend the Senate plan for District 10 diluted minority voting power in violation of federal voting rights law and the U.S. Constitution. Of the federal redistricting complaints, Powell’s alone seeks an injunction and changes to the maps ahead of the primaries.
The state’s new, GOP-drafted maps cement Republicans’ grip on power for the next decade and blunt the voting strength of nonwhite voters who fueled Texas’ population surge.
Presiding over the combined redistricting case are Barack Obama appointee David C. Guaderrama, Ronald Reagan appointee Jerry E. Smith and Donald Trump appointee Jeffrey V. Brown.
The Legislature dramatically transformed Powell’s diverse seat into a district favorable for a Republican candidate by splitting communities of color and shifting them into a large swath of rural areas controlled by white voters. The way it was redrawn likely dooms Powell’s hopes for reelection to the seat.
“In each decennial redistricting cycle in modern history, Texas has enacted plans that federal courts have ruled to be racially discriminatory in intent and/or effect. Like clockwork, Texas has done so again,” Powell’s lawsuit argues.
Republicans say the maps are legal and fair. Lawyers for the state argued the Legislature acted according to partisan motivations, not racial ones, and warned that blocking the map would disrupt the 2022 elections already in motion.
Several civil and voting rights groups, as well as individual voters, are among the plaintiffs in the consolidated case. The U.S. Department of Justice joined the fight when it sued to block Texas’ gerrymandered congressional and state House maps.
People of color accounted for 95% of the state’s population boom over the last decade, with much of the growth concentrated in cities and suburban areas, census data show.
Lawmakers can draw maps in a way that benefits their party’s political future as long as they don’t discriminate on the basis of race. The decennial process following a U.S. Census typically leads to lawsuits in Texas, with the courts largely siding with Republicans in recent years.
This year, GOP lawmakers have a clearer path to prevailing because Texas is no longer required to get federal approval for new political maps.
The previous District 10 was drawn by a court after judges found the 2011 plan unlawful.
Sami Sparber. Sami Sparber covers politics in Austin for The Dallas Morning News. She is a spring 2021 graduate of the University of Texas at Austin and hails from the Chicago suburbs. Previously, she interned at the Wall Street Journal, Texas Tribune, NBC News in Washington and the Houston Chronicle’s Austin bureau.