"Hispanic in Everything but Its Voting Patterns": Redistricting in Texas and Competing Definitions of Minority Representation

Article excerpt

Based on unprecedented population growth revealed by the 2010 census, Texas picked up four additional congressional districts. Although minorities made up 89% of the population growth between 2000 and 2010, Texas lawmakers added only one Hispanic opportunity district to the map. Voting-rights groups alleged that this violated § 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), which prohibits dilution of minority groups' voting strength via the redistricting process. This Note examines the development of VRA jurisprudence and suggests that the source of the current redistricting controversy in Texas is divergent conceptions of minority representation. While Texas legislators claim that only Hispanic citizens should be counted for purposes of the VRA, voting-rights groups assert that all Hispanics of voting age should be represented under a new redistricting plan. In order to bring more clarity to § 2 case law, courts should articulate which population measure will be used at each point in the analysis.

I. Introduction

In February 2011, the U.S. Census Bureau released the results of the 2010 census.1 The data revealed that, over the past ten years, Texas experienced unprecedented growth: the state's overall population grew to 25.1 million, a 20.6% growth - an increase larger than any other state.2 As mandated by the U.S. Constitution3 and the United States Code,4 the reapportionment of the Federal House of Representatives allocated four additional seats to the state, bringing its total delegation to thirty-six members.5 Texas lawmakers needed to draw a new congressional map to account for these changes.6

Almost immediately after the census data was released, controversy erupted over how this new map should look.7 Increases in minority population accounted for 89% of the total population growth, and many worried that this change would not be adequately represented in the redistricting process.8 In Texas, minority groups tend to vote for Democrats over Republicans,9 and, in order to preserve their majority, the Republicans in the state legislature historically have politically gerrymandered districts with high Hispanic populations, often at the expense of the minority's voting power.10

When drawing a new district map, state legislatures are constrained by § 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), which outlaws discriminatory voting practices, including the dilution of minority power via redisricting.11 One way of measuring minority voting power under the VRA is to count "majority-minority districts" - districts in which a certain minority group is a majority of the voting-age population.12 Tim Storey, Senior Fellow at the National Conference of State Legislatures and an expert on redistricting, has noted the limitations imposed by the VRA on the Texas map-drawing process: "Just because Texas is getting four new seats does not mean the Republicans will get four new Republicans to Congress. . . . You don't have unfettered ability to draw new boundaries."13

The Hispanic population represented a majority of the new growth, and now amounts to 37.6% of the overall Texas population.14 Based on the census data alone, State Representative Carol Alvardo speculated that "the Latino community should receive three of the new congressional seats or better." But in the summer of 2011, the Texas legislature enacted a new district map.16 Of the four new districts added to the map, only one was a Hispanic majority-minority district.17

Minority advocacy groups were outraged by the disconnect between the demographics of the population growth and the demographics of the four new districts.18 The plan was immediately challenged under § 2 of the VRA by various voting-rights groups.19 At the same time, Texas requested a declaratory judgment from a D.C. federal court stating that the plan was in compliance with §5 of the VRA.20

While the two provisions of the VRA have a similar goal, their enforcement mechanisms are slightly different. …