A federal court panel heard arguments Thursday on the question of whether Texas lawmakers should be allowed to draw maps for political districts without federal oversight.
Lawyers for civil rights groups squared off against attorneys for the State of Texas and the Trump administration, the Austin American-Statesman reported, with the former arguing that legislative leaders can legally discriminate against minority voters in redistricting.
The issue is even more important due to the looming 2020 Census; the once-a-decade accounting of the population usually spurs major overhauls of political maps.
Nina Perales, a lawyer for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, argued that Texas has a long history of voting discrimination and drew intentionally discriminatory maps in 2011.
“The purpose … is to stop discrimination before it happens so minority voters do not have to vote under a discriminatory system,” she said, according to the newspaper.
Matthew Frederick, representing the Texas attorney general’s office, argued that the type of oversight requested by the civil rights groups is reserved by the Voting Rights Act of 1965 for only the most flagrant instances of discrimination.
“Texas has not engaged in anything close to the rampant, pervasive and widespread denial of voting rights and defiance of the Constitution that were necessary to sustain preclearance in 1965 and are necessary to sustain preclearance today,” the Statesman reported him as saying.
U.S. district court judges criticized Texas’ redistricting efforts in 2011, accusing the state of a lack of transparency for not making proposed maps open for public inspection and holding hearings in remote locations.
The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division agreed with those judges at the time, arguing during the Obama administration that Texas had a history of intentional racial discrimination in redistricting. But Justice Department attorney John Gore supported Texas’ position at Thursday’s hearing, saying the mistakes of the past had been corrected.