“Most Extreme Example Of Racial Gerrymandering”: Federal Court Blocks Discriminatory Texas Redistricting Plan
In December of last year, the Justice Department asserted that Texas’s redistricting plans for Congress and the state legislature violated Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act by “diminishing the ability of citizens of the United States, on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority group, to elect their preferred candidates of choice.” Today a three-judge federal court in Washington concurred with DOJ, writing that Texas’s redistricting plans were “enacted with discriminatory purpose” and did not deserve preclearance under Section 5.
Here are the relevant facts of the case: Texas gained 4.3 million new residents from 2000-2010. Nearly 90 percent of that growth came from minority citizens (65 percent Hispanic, 13 percent African-American, 10 percent Asian). As a result, Texas gained four new Congressional seats, from thirty-two to thirty-six. Yet, under the Congressional redistricting map passed by Texas Republicans following the 2010 election, white Republicans were awarded three of the four new seats that resulted from Democratic-leaning minority population growth. The League of Women Voters called the plan “the most extreme example of racial gerrymandering among all the redistricting proposals passed by lawmakers so far this year.”
Noted the federal court:
The Black and Hispanic communities currently make up 39.3% of Texas’s CVAP [current voting age population]. Thus, if districts were allocated proportionally, there would be 13 minority districts out of the 32 in the benchmark (39.3% of 32 is 12.6). Yet minorities have only 10 seats in the benchmark, so the representation gap is three districts. In the enacted plan, proportional representation would yield 14 ability districts (39.3% of 36 is 14.1), but there are still only 10 ability districts.
Texas Republicans went to extreme lengths in order to dilute and suppress the state’s booming minority vote, as I reported in The Nation in January (see “How the GOP is Resegregating the South”).
According to a lawsuit filed by a host of civil rights groups, “even though Whites’ share of the population declined from 52 percent to 45 percent, they remain the majority in 70 percent of Congressional Districts.” To cite just one of many examples: in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, the Hispanic population increased by 440,898, the African-American population grew by 152,825 and the white population fell by 156,742. Yet white Republicans, a minority in the metropolis, control four of five Congressional seats. Despite declining in population, white Republicans managed to pick up two Congressional seats in the Dallas and Houston areas. In fact, whites are the minority in the state’s five largest counties but control twelve of nineteen Congressional districts.
Texas Republicans not only failed to grant new power to minority voters in the state, they also took away vital economic resources from minority Democratic members of Congress.
Reported the court:
Congressman Al Green, who represents CD 9, testified that “substantial surgery” was done to his district that could not have happened by accident. The Medical Center, Astrodome, rail line, and Houston Baptist University — the “economic engines” of the district — were all removed in the enacted plan. The enacted plan also removed from CD 9 the area where Representative Green had established his district office. Likewise, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, who represents CD 18, testified that the plan removed from her district key economic generators as well as her district office. Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson of CD 30 also testified that the plan removed the American Center (home of the Dallas Mavericks), the arts district, her district office, and her home from CD 30. The mapdrawers also removed the district office, the Alamo, and the Convention Center (named after the incumbent’s father), from CD 20, a Hispanic ability district.
No such surgery was performed on the districts of Anglo incumbents. In fact, every Anglo member of Congress retained his or her district office. Anglo district boundaries were redrawn to include particular country clubs and, in one case, the school belonging to the incumbent’s grandchildren. And Texas never challenged evidence that only minority districts lost their economic centers by showing, for example, that the same types of changes had been made in Anglo districts.
The only explanation Texas offers for this pattern is “coincidence.” But if this was coincidence, it was a striking one indeed. It is difficult to believe that pure chance would lead to such results. The State also argues that it “attempted to accommodate unsolicited requests from a bipartisan group of lawmakers,” and that “[w]ithout hearing from the members, the mapdrawers did not know where district offices were located.” But we find this hard to believe as well. We are confident that the mapdrawers can not only draw maps but read them, and the locations of these district offices were not secret. The improbability of these events alone could well qualify as a “clear pattern, unexplainable on grounds other than race,” and lead us to infer a discriminatory purpose behind the Congressional Plan.
The same analysis applied to the state senate and state house maps as well. “Texas has failed to carry its burden that [its redistricting plans] do not have the purpose or effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority group under section 5 of the Voting Rights Act,” the court wrote in its conclusion. An interim map drawn by a federal court in San Antonio in February will be used for the 2012 election.
Texas’s redistricting maps and voter ID law (which DOJ has also objected to and will soon be decided by a federal court in Washington) in many ways embody the conservative response to the country’s changing demographics. Instead of courting an increasingly diverse electorate, Republicans in Texas and elsewhere are trying to take away political power from minority voters and make it harder for them to vote.
Texas is one of seven GOP states that recently filed an amicus brief supporting a challenge to the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act before the Supreme Court. The state has already vowed to appeal the redistricting case to the Supreme Court, which could also hear Texas’s voter ID case if overturned. Texas, it should be noted, has lost more Section 5 enforcement suits than any other state. Today’s ruling is another black eye for Republicans in the Lone Star State.
By: Ari Berman, The Nation, August 28, 2012
If you haven’t been worn down reading about Todd Akin’s bizarre and ignorant views about the female reproductive system, now turn to Texas, where women’s uteruses may soon have to move out of state to find health care. Late Tuesday night, a federal court of appeals ruled that Texas can exclude Planned Parenthood from the Women’s Health Program, which provides basic preventative care—like birth control and cancer screenings—for low-income women. The decision has terrifying implications in a state where women’s access to health care is already poor.
One in four women in Texas is uninsured, and the state also has the third-highest rate of cervical cancer in the country. In Texas, women’s health-care clinics serving low-income populations rely on two sources of funding: the Women’s Health Program and general state family-planning dollars. Lawmakers have attacked both streams.
In 2011, the state legislature slashed state funding for family planning—you know, the thing that prevents abortions—by two-thirds. A recent report from the Texas Observer revealed that 60 family planning facilities have already closed as a result of the cuts. While a full picture of the effect is still emerging, the Legislative Budget Board, a bipartisan committee, had estimated that when all was said and done, the cuts would lead to 20,000 additional births (which Medicaid would have to pay for). Projections show that around 180,000 women would lose health services.
Then there’s the damage to the state Women’s Health Program (WHP), a separate program that serves 130,000 low-income women. Created in 2005, the WHP is a crucial state service that provides preventative health care and family-planning services. It’s run through Medicaid, so the feds paid for 90 percent of the $40 million program. While it only serves women who are not pregnant, it saved around $75.2 million in 2009 by preventing a projected 6,700 births. The program seemed like a win-win; it decreased unplanned pregnancies and abortions, while increasing access to health care.
But the WHP may soon not exist, or at least not in a recognizable way. Lawmakers added new rules in 2011 that excluded Planned Parenthood from receiving funding. The trouble is, Planned Parenthood provided services to nearly half the women covered under the program and received about 25 percent of the program’s total funding last year. Barring the organization leaves many wondering whether those clinics left would meet demand.
Furthermore, the state violated federal policy by slashing Planned Parenthood funding, which means Medicaid can no longer foot the bill for the Women’s Health Program. Texas supposedly has a plan to transition to a state-run program by November 1; that plan will continue to exclude Planned Parenthood. The influential organization is fighting the state’s decision, and in October, the two parties begin court proceedings on whether Texas can permanently exclude the main provider of women’s health from its Women’s Health Program.
Yesterday’s decision means that between now and the court case, Texas can halt funding to Planned Parenthood clinics. It’s only a few months, but the clinics are already reeling from the family-planning cuts. The loss of WHP funding is a double whammy. Twelve Planned Parenthood clinics have already shut down, alongside the many clinics with no relation to the organization. Meanwhile, if the courts ultimately decide Texas cannot exclude Planned Parenthood from the WHP, the state may opt to shut down the program entirely.
Many, including the attorney general and Governor Rick Perry, celebrated the decision, and the state Health and Human Services Commission announced it would immediately halt funding to the group. Meanwhile, for the hundreds of thousands of low-income women in the state, there are fewer and fewer health-care options.
By: Abby Rapoport, The American Prospect, August 22, 2012
After doing their best to dismantle the Women’s Health Program—and losing federal funding in the process—the state’s Republicans promise they’ll find the money somehow.
Texas health officials are telling low-income women not to worry. The Women’s Health Program, the Medicaid program serving 130,000 women, will still be there for them. Of course, how it will be paid for and whether enough clinics will be left providing services are still subjects up for debate.
The Republican-dominated Texas Legislature cut funding for the program—which offers poor women basic reproductive health services like birth control and cancer screenings—by two-thirds last year. The cuts came out of fear that the health-care providers were too linked with the so-called abortion industry. Just to be safe, conservative lawmakers barred Planned Parenthood from participating in the program. Of course, since the beginning of the program, no public dollars could go to abortions, and women could only participate if they were not pregnant.
The results were swift. The budget cuts resulted in clinic closings around the state, and the decision to exclude Planned Parenthood violated federal policy, meaning that the federal government, which paid for 90 percent of the $35 million program, would no longer pay for any of it. Protests have broken out around the state. Planned Parenthood has already filed a lawsuit.
But not to worry—Governor Rick Perry promised that the state would take over the Women’s Health Program. Yesterday, state health officials unveiled their plan. Step one: Stay on the federal tab a few months longer. Step two: They’re working on it.
The Texas Health and Human Services Commission will ask the feds to keep funding them through November 1. (Texas was supposed to get cut off at the end of April.) By then, presumably, the state will find some way to free up dollars. That’s hardly a cakewalk. Texas has been in a fiscal crisis since 2011. For the last two-year budget, lawmakers had to deal with a $22 billion shortfall, resulting in unprecedented cuts to education and underfunding of Medicaid programs by almost $5 billion. The state has a structural deficit thanks to a dysfunctional tax structure. Yesterday, Perry announced his “Budget Compact,” which asks lawmakers to pledge no new or increased taxes as well as offering voters a constitutional amendment that would limit spending increases to the population growth.
Given the situation, $35 million isn’t going to be easy to find, unless the state comes up with a way to get more federal money. Which may be its best option. According to The Texas Tribune, officials “hinted the state could free up state dollars to fund the Women’s Health Program by seeking federal block grants for other programs.”
But even if they find the money, there’s still the problem of clinics. Planned Parenthood clinics served almost 50 percent of the women participating in the WHP. With those providers out of the picture, the remaining clinics have to shoulder the burden—and they have to do so with a major funding cut. As the Austin Chronicle notes, non-Planned Parenthood clinic Community Action Inc. has had to close 11 of its 13 clinics in Central Texas. The two remaining ones are in danger as well. In their plan for taking over the program, state officials say they will try to increase the number of providers.
The head of the state’s biggest health agency, Tom Suehs, has promised that things will be fine, dismissing the “scare tactics and misinformation campaigns.” The bigger challenge, he says, is “making sure women get accurate information about the program in the midst of organized attempts to confuse and frighten those who rely on it.”
Maybe it’s just me, but what’s confusing is a health-care policy that makes it hard to access health care.
BY: Abby Rapoport, The American Prospect, April 18, 2012