Ground zero for the assault on democracy: Texas’s 23rd district

Late Friday, a panel of federal judges ruled that Texas intentionally discriminated against blacks and Hispanics in drawing two congressional districts back in 2011. Among other consequences, the ruling could lead to the state being put back under the system of “pre-clearance”—in which it must get any change to its election system approved in advance by the federal government—which was neutered by the Supreme Court in the 2013 Shelby County decision.

Here’s much more on where this goes from here, by the Brennan Center’s Michael Li, who has been tracking Texas’s epic redistricting saga from the beginning. 
I reported in 2013 on how Republicans achieved the gerrymandering of Texas’s 23rd district — one of those found Friday to be illegally drawn. GOP lawmakers directed their map-makers to remove high-turnout Hispanic neighborhoods from the district and replace them with low-turnout ones, so as to lower the Democratic vote. One bizarre result was to split the border town of Eagle Pass right down Main Street. In an email that became a smoking gun in the case, a lawyer for the Republican House Speaker asked one of the map-drawers to pull this switch, which he said would help in “shoring up” the GOP incumbent. 

The 23rd district, which spans over 500 miles from San Antonio to El Paso, is interesting for another reason, too. You might remember that another voting measure passed by Texas Republicans during that 2011-12 session was found to have been driven by intentional racial bias—the state’s strict ID law. (Last month, the Trump administration said it was withdrawing the government’s claim of intentional discrimination, but private plaintiffs continue to assert it, and the courts have agreed with them.) A Rice University study suggests strongly that the ID law was responsible for flipping that congressional seat in 2014, when Republican Will Hurd beat Democratic incumbent Pete Gallego by just 2,422 votes. Hurd beat Gallego again last year by only a slightly larger margin, with a modified version of the ID law in place.
To sum up: Republicans intentionally discriminated against Hispanics in drawing the lines of the 23rd district in order to boost their chances of winning the seat. And their ID law, which also intentionally discriminated against blacks and Hispanics, likely made the difference in winning control of the seat at least once. 


Of course, one congressional seat may not amount to much, unless you happen to live in it. But the rest of us should care too. Texas’s 23rd district represents a particularly successful example of a strategy Republicans have used from Wisconsin to Florida to Arizona over the last decade, which I detailed in The Great Suppression: Pull out the stops to impose voting rules that help entrench them in power, often in deeply undemocratic ways. 

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