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Most of Texas' new districts are majority white, diluting power of voters of color


In Texas, Republican lawmakers have finished drawing new congressional districts, making room for the two additional seats the state gained through population growth. Even though about 95% of that growth came from people of color, Republicans have drawn the new districts to spread out Latino and Black voters, diluting their power. And a reminder that redistricting only happens once a decade. Houston Public Media's Andrew Schneider has been covering the redistricting process in Texas and joins us now. Hi, Andrew.


SHAPIRO: Give us an idea of how Republicans who control power in the state government have drawn these new districts.

SCHNEIDER: The new map ups the number of districts that would have voted for Donald Trump in 2020 from 22 to 25. Most of the state's districts under the new maps, including two new seats the state added in Austin and Houston, are majority white. Lawmakers reduced the number of majority Hispanic districts from eight to seven, and the number of districts where Black residents make up the majority of voters dropped from one to zero. Much of the Republican strategy appears to involve compacting Democrats of color into urban areas while drawing diverse suburban areas into rural districts dominated by more conservative white voters. That's particularly the case in North Texas, where Hispanics make up the largest part of Dallas County's population and where the white population has declined over the last decade.

SHAPIRO: Tell us about what specifically is happening in Houston where you are.

SCHNEIDER: Well, one of the main changes Republican lawmakers were looking to make in Houston was to take downtown Houston and a number of historically Black neighborhoods like the Third Ward and move them out of Democratic Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee's 18th Congressional District into Democratic Congressman Al Green's 9th District. And both Jackson Lee and Green were furious about that. They argued it essentially forced them to run against each other. The plan even moved Jackson Lee's home into Green's district. But Democrats managed to get most of those changes reversed in the final maps, though Jackson Lee still winds up losing some historically Black neighborhoods.

SHAPIRO: So it sounds like Republicans really got most of what they were looking for here. In many states, redistricting comes at the end of months of public comment leading up to the maps being drafted. Does it look like this reflects popular opinion? Was there that kind of a process here?

SCHNEIDER: Well, Republicans argue they had a number of interim redistricting hearings around the state in advance of the special session, but the final testimony during the special session itself basically came down to a couple of days - one in the Senate's redistricting committee, one in the Houses.

SHAPIRO: So for people of color whose power is being diluted or Democrats who say their representation in the state is not adequately reflected here, what options are there?

SCHNEIDER: Well, MALDEF, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, has already announced a lawsuit on behalf of nearly a dozen civil rights organizations. They're arguing the maps violate the Voting Rights Act and dilute the Latino voting strength. The Supreme Court ruling in Shelby County v. Holder, though, eliminated the Voting Rights Act requirement that states like Texas need to get their maps pre-cleared by the Justice Department or the U.S. District Court of D.C. And that ruling shifted the burden of proof from the state onto the plaintiffs. In other words, Texas no longer has to prove its maps don't discriminate. The plaintiffs have to prove they do. And the standard of proof is such that it'll be hard to do that before an election using the maps has actually taken place.

SHAPIRO: That's Andrew Schneider of Houston Public Media. Thanks a lot.

SCHNEIDER: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Andrew Schneider