A federal district judge in El Paso on Tuesday will preside over one of several challenges against the state of Texas and Gov. Greg Abbott after the Republican-led Texas Legislature redrew political maps following the 2020 U.S. Census.
And although this week’s hearing is limited in scope — it pertains to one state senate district in North Texas — attorneys said testimony could foretell what is to come later this year when a slew of other redistricting challenges are heard in a consolidated redistricting lawsuit.
U.S. District Judge David Guaderrama will hear a challenge to the redrawn political boundaries for Fort Worth’s state Senate District 10, currently represented by Democrat Beverly Powell. Powell and six Tarrant County residents filed the lawsuit in early November, alleging the new map purposely dilutes the voting strength of minorities.
“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,” the lawsuit asserts. “Remarkably, Texas has enacted the same racially discriminatory scheme to dismantle Senate District 10.”
It’s just one of multiple lawsuits filed last year after the Texas Legislature redrew district boundaries for the Texas House and Senate, State Board of Education and U.S. Congressional seats. The plaintiffs in those lawsuits include several individuals and organizations including the League of United Latin American Citizens, Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, and La Union del Pueblo Entero, among others. The Biden administration’s Department of Justice filed an additional lawsuit in December.
The DOJ’s allegations against the state are similar: Republicans intentionally drew boundaries to weaken the strength of minority voters. That was despite non-White Texans accounting for more than 90 % of the state’s growth. The cases have been consolidated and will be heard in El Paso in September 2022.
Attorney Mark P. Gaber, who represents Powell and the other plaintiffs, said their case is scheduled ahead of the others this fall because they asked the judge to make a decision in time for the November 2022 General Election.
“The claims are that the drawing of the senate district was intentionally discriminatory by cracking apart Black and Latino voters. What we are asking the court to do is enter relief in time to affect the November 22 election,” he said. “So, we would put the district that exists now back in place and that would require some changes to the surrounding districts as well.”
Graber said this week’s hearing could foreshadow what to expect later this year.
“I imagine for one thing there is going to be testimony and that doesn’t go away. And that could be relevant to other claims as well,” he said. “We’ll probably get some legal ruling from the court that will affect issues beyond Senate District 10 in terms of what the court determines are the facts of law.”
The Lone Star Project, a pro-Democrat group aimed at unseating Texas Republicans, called Powell’s lawsuit a “a linchpin case that will determine whether the Voting Rights Act” can still protect voters from the actions of Texas Republicans.
“Texas media nor anyone else should underplay or misunderstand the importance of the suit filed today by Senator Powell and others,” the group said in a statementafter the lawsuit was filed. “They are battling for voting rights in Tarrant County, in all of Texas, and everywhere in our country.”