SAN ANTONIO -- The Congressional redistricting plan that passed the Texas legislature this spring is illegal, according to a U.S. Department of Justice ruling Monday.
Attorneys for the state on Friday had defended the new election districts drawn by the Republican-led Legislature, saying they were designed within the law, with more consideration given to county lines and politics than race and ethnicity.
A panel of three federal judges then indicated before adjourning that they would wait for the Justice Department to weigh in on the new Texas redistricting maps before issuing a ruling.
Several minority and Democratic groups filed a lawsuit over the redistricting maps approved during the summer, alleging new voting district lines are illegally discriminatory because they camouflage a statewide surge in Hispanic growth during the past decade. They argue the growth warrants the creation of districts in which Hispanics have enough voting strength to elect the candidate of their choice.
The state's attorney says the maps weren't drawn with prejudice and preserve the voting power of minorities.
"The basis we have here for any race-based redistricting just doesn't exist," said state attorney David Schenck.
Texas received four new seats in the U.S. House based on the most recent census population count. That was more than any other state and came in the wake of a population boom overwhelmingly driven by Hispanics. The Legislature was tasked with updating the district lines.
Plaintiffs argued the surge in Hispanic growth warranted those residents getting more representation in new districts, yet the Republican plan splits Hispanic and black communities so conservative white residents would be more likely to win seats in Congress.
The plaintiffs, including minority groups and Democrats, targeted the design of a handful of districts, including a sweeping district currently represented by freshman Republican U.S. Rep. Quico Canseco. Critics contend Hispanic-dominated precincts with a history of low turnout were moved into the district to meet the constitutional requirements while maintaining its GOP dominance. Hispanic voters have traditionally supported Democratic candidates.
"These voters who happen to be Hispanic who live in the area from Central Texas, out west, are simply not voting cohesively or turning out to vote in the numbers people would expect," Schenck said. "We can't throw out traditional voting principles and just lard up the district with enough Democrats as possible to ensure a Democrat gets elected there."
The Texas NAACP, also among the plaintiffs, has argued growth in Texas' black population merits at least one new district with a largely black population on the congressional map.