West Texas District Violates Latino Voting Rights

The Court rules that the voters of Laredo were divided from each other in order to empower a Republican encumbent.

“…changes to District 23 served the dual goals of increasing Republican seats and protecting the incumbent Republi-can against an increasingly powerful Latino population that threat-ened to oust him, with the additional political nuance that he wouldbe reelected in a district that had a Latino majority as to voting age population, though not a Latino majority as to citizen voting age population or an effective Latino voting majority. The District 23 changes required adjustments elsewhere, so the State created new District 25 to avoid retrogression…”
Justice Kennedy Leads the Majority

“After the 2002 election, it became apparent that District 23 as then drawn had an increasingly powerful Latino population that threatened to oust the incumbent Republi-can, Henry Bonilla. Before the 2003 redistricting, the Latino share of the citizen voting-age population was 57.5%, and Bonilla’s support among Latinos had dropped with each successive election since 1996. Session, 298 F. Supp. 2d, at 488–489. In 2002, Bonilla captured only 8% of the Latino vote, ibid., and 51.5% of the overall vote. Faced with this loss of voter support, the legislature acted to protect Bonilla’s incumbency by changing the lines—and hence the population mix—of the district. To begin with, the new plan divided Webb County and the city ofLaredo, on the Mexican border, that formed the county’s population base. Webb County, which is 94% Latino, had previously rested entirely within District 23; under the new plan, nearly 100,000 people were shifted into neighboring District 28. Id., at 489. The rest of the county, approximately 93,000 people, remained in District 23. To replace the numbers District 23 lost, the State added voters in counties comprising a largely Anglo, Republican area in central Texas. Id., at 488. In the newly drawn district, the Latino share of the citizen voting-agepopulation dropped to 46%, though the Latino share of the total voting-age population remained just over 50%.”

“Against this background, the Latinos’ diminishing electoral support for Bonilla indicates their belief he was “unresponsive to the particularized needs of the members of the minority group.” Ibid. (same). In essence the State took away the Latinos’ opportunity because Latinos were about to exercise it. This bears the mark of intentional discrimination that could give rise to an equal protection violation. Even if we accept the District Court’s findingthat the State’s action was taken primarily for political, not racial, reasons, Session, supra, at 508, the redrawing of the district lines was damaging to the Latinos in District 23. The State not only made fruitless the Latinos’ mobilization efforts but also acted against those Latinos who were becoming most politically active, dividing them with a district line through the middle of Laredo.”

Dissent by the New Chief Justice

“What is blushingly ironic is that the district preferred by the majority—former District 23—suffers from the same “flaw” the majority ascribes to District 25, except to a greater degree. While the majority decries District 25 because the Latino communities there are separated by“enormous geographical distance,” ante, at 29, and are “hundreds of miles apart,” ante, at 35, Latino communities joined to form the voting majority in old District 23 are nearly twice as far apart. Old District 23 runs “from El Paso, over 500 miles, into San Antonio and down into Laredo. It covers a much longer distance than . . . the 300miles from Travis to McAllen [in District 25].” App. 292 (testimony of T. Giberson); see id., at 314 (report of T. Gib-erson) (“[D]istrict 23 in any recent Congressional plan ex-tends from the outskirts of El Paso down to Laredo, dipping into San Antonio and spanning 540 miles”). So much for the significance of “enormous geographical distance.” Or perhaps the majority is willing to “assume” that Latinos aroundSan Antonio have common interests with those on the Rio Grande rather than those around Austin, even though San Antonio and Austin are a good bit closer to each other (less than 80 miles apart) than either is to the Rio Grande.*

–From today’s Supreme Court decision in LULAC vs. Perry. Get the decision in pdf from The Court

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