State opponents in court: hurting Democrats is also hurting minorities

Congressional district map (KXAN Photo)
Congressional district map (KXAN Photo)

SAN ANTONIO (KXAN) — Mexican-American legal teams accused state lawmakers of discrimination against minority Texans as they drew legislative maps to favor Republicans.

A federal three judge panel in San Antonio — Judges Jerry Smith, Xavier Rodriguez and Orlando Garcia — agreed to take the case up after a Republican-led legislature approved making court-drawn temporary maps permanent in 2013.

The stats and paperwork for this case had to be wheeled into the Federal Courthouse Monday morning. Dozens of lawyers were quick to follow and race took center stage on day one.

Tipping the scales against Democrats is legal. Tipping the scales against minorities is not.

More than half of Texans are non-white, but only a third of state lawmakers are Texans of color. Out of the 66 Democratic lawmakers, only 6 are white.

The plaintiffs brought in expert witnesses, including Dr. Robert Brischetto and George Korbel, Monday morning to pound home two points: African-Americans and Hispanics vote together — known as “cohesion” — and in a general election, minorities vote for Democrats, white people vote Republican, a theory known as “racial polarization”.

“The state legislature does not look like the state it’s representing,” said Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, and chair of the primary litigant, the Mexican American Legislative Caucus.

He claims that while the state intentionally discriminated against Democrats, they also discriminate against minorities by not allowing enough districts where a minority candidate has an opportunity to win. The Voting Rights Act requires a certain amount of districts to be deemed “minority opportunity districts,” where a minority candidate has to have the opportunity to win.

“African-Americans and Latinos, live, work and vote together, in these elections,” said Rep. Anchia.

The plaintiffs, led by the Mexican American Legislative Caucus and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, also brought in George Korbel as an expert witness. He had his own versions of maps which the plaintiffs want the judges to make reality. They change 41 districts and add nine more “minority opportunity” districts.

In cross examination, state lawyers argued the difference is because of turnout. Smaller numbers of minority voters on election day leads to fewer minority state lawmakers.

The current maps are temporary, put in place by the Western District Court in San Antonio for the 2012 election and then made permanent in 2013.

“These plans were first adopted by this same federal district court and which made a preliminary determination that they did not violate the Voting Rights Act or the U.S. Constitution,” said Marc Rylander, spokesperson from the State Attorney General’s Office after the hearing on Monday.

But the same court agreed to take up this case and look at the maps again before the 2018 election.

Later this fall, the U.S. Supreme Court will take up a case from Wisconsin that will also determine the fate of gerrymandering. Justices will look at whether drawing lines based on political parties can be abused.

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