Federal court rules 3 GOP congressional districts discriminate against Hispanics

The term gerrymandering to describe the political manipulation of electoral districts may date to 1812, when Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry approved a map that included an oddly shaped district said to look like a salamander.

A panel of federal judges ruled on Friday that three of Texas's Congressional districts are illegal, violating the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act.

The redistricting maps drafted by Texas Republicans after the 2010 census "intentionally diluted minority voting strength in order to gain partisan advantage", wrote Judges Xavier Rodriguez and Orlando Garcia of the Western District of Texas.

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In a scathing dissent, U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Jerry Smith blasted Department of Justice attorneys' "arrogance and condescension", accusing them of "exhibiting contempt for Texas and its representatives". It's now up to Texas to decide if it'll appeal the court's decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. It is also supposed to create geographically compact districts without "packing or cracking" them - which is a fancy way of saying without forming oddly-shaped, far-flung gerrymandered districts that protect incumbents or unfairly dilute the voting influence of a specific party or minorities.

Only by reading the voluminous lawsuits filed against the state can one appreciate just how creative Texas Republicans had to be to so successfully dilute and suppress the state's minority vote.

The long-awaited ruling does not instruct the state on how to remedy the problem, but it does state three districts were drawn with the intent of "packing" Hispanic voters into their own heavily Democratic districts, thereby making other districts easier for Republicans to win. Typically, redistricting occurs once every 10 years after the USA census.

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"It was obvious, from the start, that the DoJ attorneys viewed state officials and the legislative majority and their staffs as a bunch of backwoods hayseed bigots who bemoan the abolition of the poll tax and pine for the days of literacy tests and lynchings", Smith added. Federal courts have taken it upon themselves to draw districts with majority black or Hispanic voters to make it more likely that a minority candidate will succeed.

"This is a huge victory for voting rights plaintiffs, but I am increasingly pessimistic in the medium term", UC Irvine School of Law professor Rick Hasen wrote on his Election Law Blog. Congressional District 23, represented by Republican Will Hurd of Helotes, extends from San Antonio to El Paso and encompasses most of the Texas-Mexico border.

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