After protests from Democrats about what they called a rushed redistricting procedure that was compressed into a 30-day session and which left little time for public input, the maps were approved Monday night. They also condemned the reduction in minority opportunity districts. Texas now has seven House districts with Latino residents holding a majority -- down from eight -- despite changing demographics.
Just before the final vote, Rafael Anchia, Democratic state Representative from Texas, stated to the chamber that "What we are doing by passing this congressional map to Texas is a disservice for the people of Texas."
GOP Governor Greg Abbott is expected sign off on the changes.
Before Republican legislators were even done Monday, civil rights groups including the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund sued. Plaintiffs claim that Republican mapmakers reduced the political power of minorities voters by not drawing new districts in which Latino residents are majority. This despite Latinos being half of Texas' 4,000,000 new residents in the past decade.
Abbott's office didn't respond to my request for comment.
Republicans claim they complied with the law when defending the maps. This protects their grip on Texas and draws more GOP-leaning voters to suburban districts that are Democratically influenced.
This year has been a turbulent one in Texas over voting rights. The new maps will change how Texas' 30 million residents are organized into political districts. Two times, Democratic lawmakers walked away from an election bill that tightened Texas' already strict voting rules. This was despite the fact that Texas has seen more than nine out of 10 new residents since 2010.
Republican state senator Joan Huffman, who created the maps and heads the Senate Redistricting Committee said that they were "drawn blindly to race" and she assured fellow lawmakers that her legal team made sure the plan complied with the Voting Rights Act.
Both chambers of Texas' Legislature are controlled by the GOP, which gives them almost complete control over the mapmaking process. Since 1965 when the Voting Rights Act was in effect, the state has had to defend its maps in court. However, this is the first time since a U.S. Supreme Court decision that Texas and other states with a history racial discrimination are no longer required to have the Justice Department inspect the maps before approval.
Drawing maps for political advantage is legal. According to data from the Texas Legislative Council, the proposal would make at least two dozen of 38 state congressional districts safe for Republicans. It also gives Democrats the opportunity to win at least one new Democratic stronghold along the Texas border. The current state's 26 seats are held by Republicans.
After negotiations between Texas House members, state senators, the Houston-area congressional districts of U.S. Rep Sheila Jackson Lee (a Democrat serving her 14th term) and U.S. Rep Al Green (a neighboring Democrat) were restored. This unpairing allowed the two to reunite and Jackson Lee's home was redrawn into her district.
Texas legislators also approved redrawn districts maps. Republicans followed a similar plan, which does not increase minority opportunities districts but would maintain their party's power in the state House of Representatives and Senate.