NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Texas Republicans praised and Democrats rejected the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling that the Texas Legislature did not purposely discriminate against minority voters when developing political boundaries.
Former Democratic State Representative Lon Burnam of Fort Worth said the decision, “Is another miscarriage of justice by the Supreme Court because it does nothing to protect minority communities.”
Burnam said the nation’s highest court is not ensuring minorities are being adequately represented. “Basically, the Supreme Court has abdicated its responsibility to defend the Voting Rights Act and to defend the rights of minorities to be represented in their government. All they’ve done is muddy the water further by their convoluted legalese excuse for not addressing the bigger issue which is overt discrimination against both Hispanics and African-Americans throughout the State of Texas.”
The court upheld every one of the state’s contested Congressional districts and nearly all contested State Legislative districts.
Last year, a panel of three federal judges in San Antonio struck down two of the state’s 36 Congressional districts and a variety of state House districts, ruling that the Texas Legislature intentionally discriminated against African-Americans and Hispanics.
Republican State Representative Matt Krause said, “I think the ruling was a good one from the Supreme Court. In the absence of overt, illegal drawing of those lines, the court should give a great amount of deference to the state when making these decisions, the Supreme Court reaffirmed that principle today, and I think it was a good course to follow.”
The political maps the High Court considered were approved by the state legislature in 2013 and are based on a lower federal court’s recommendations after finding fault against the legislature’s 2011 maps.
Krause said, “For us to put in place the same district lines the court already approved, I didn’t see how we were going to get intentional discrimination unless the court had done this itself, which I didn’t believe to be the case.”
However, the Supreme Court found State House District 90 in Fort Worth was an “impermissible racial gerrymander,” and that race was illegally used as the primary consideration when drawing the district.
The Como neighborhood, which is a predominantly African-American neighborhood, is at the heart of the dispute.
In 2011, the legislature moved the Como neighborhood out of House District 90 when it drew new state legislative maps.
At the time, Burnam represented District 90, and after he complained about the move, the legislature moved the Como neighborhood back into the district, a mostly Hispanic district.
The legislature also shifted more Hispanics into District 90 to keep it a majority-Hispanic district.
The State argued it was permissible to use race as a predominant factor in drawing the district’s boundaries so it could comply with the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
The legislation was signed by President Lyndon Johnson and was aimed at making sure state and local governments no longer prevented African-Americans from exercising their right to vote.
But the Supreme Court found the State did not offer enough evidence and reasoning to change District 90’s boundaries solely on the basis of race.
The Supreme Court sent the case back to the lower federal court to fix.
Republicans and Democrats do agree though any potential fix will impact other state legislative districts in Fort Worth.
Burnam said, “When it comes to districts, everything’s connected to everything else. If the lower court decides to mess around with the lines of District 90, they’re going to have to mess with the districts right next to it.”
Krause, who represents the neighboring House District 93 said, “If you change one little boundary or one little precinct, or one little line in Tarrant County, it could have a ripple effect on a lot of the different districts.”
Burnam lost in the 2014 primary to Ramon Romero Jr., who represents District 90 now.
Romero, who was out of town, told me by phone the Supreme Court’s ruling surprised him.
He said his district needs to remain majority-Hispanic and that he would like it to keep representing the Como neighborhood if at all possible.
But he said he would wait to see how the lower federal court would propose changing the boundaries.
Romero said the bottom line is that changes won’t be made until “Democrats and minorities win more elections.”
Congressman Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, is the founder and chair of the Congressional Voting Rights Caucus issued a statement saying, “Today’s Supreme Court ruling in Texas’ intentional racial discrimination case is a huge wakeup call.”
The courts aren’t enforcing Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which protects minorities’ right to vote. Gerrymandering on the basis of one’s skin color is contrary to our fundamental democratic principles of fair and effective representation and reverses our country’s progress towards equal opportunity.”
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton praised the Supreme Court’s ruling saying, “The court rightly recognized that the Constitution protects the right of Texans to draw their own legislative districts, and rejected the misguided efforts by unelected federal judges to wrest control of Texas elections from Texas voters. This is a huge win for the Constitution, Texas and the democratic process.”