The U.S. Department of Justice said in a court filing Monday that Texas' new voting maps for Congress and for the Texas House do not meet federal anti-discrimination requirements, setting up a legal battle that will decide the landscape of future elections in the state.
The case, which involves the election districts drawn by the Republican-led Texas Legislature, will likely be decided by a federal court in Washington, D.C.
District boundaries are redrawn every 10 years to reflect changes in census data. Any changes to Texas' voting practices must be cleared by a federal court or the Justice Department to ensure changes do not discriminate based on race or color.
The Justice Department took issue with the maps for Congress and the Texas House, but it agreed with the state attorney general that maps for the Texas Senate and State Board of Education met requirements under the federal Voting Rights Act.
But the Justice Department reiterated that the court would have to make its own determination on the education board and Senate maps.
The agency denied that the congressional and House plans maintain or increase the ability of minority voters to elect their candidate of choice, as required by federal law. The Voting Rights Act requires map drawers to give special protection to districts that contain mostly minorities.
"The D.C. court will have to hear these issues fully and we will have a chance to put in our evidence supporting why we think that the plan should not be pre-cleared," said Nina Perales, an attorney for the Mexican American Legal and Defense Fund, which has joined the case.
"Now, it's going to have to be decided by the court."
A separate trial combining lawsuits filed against the plans wrapped up last week in San Antonio.
During the trial, minority groups argued the new voting districts don't reflect the statewide Hispanic population boom over the past decade in Texas.
Texas received four new congressional seats following the last census, more than any other state.
The new congressional map was drawn with the goal of protecting and possibly expanding the 23-9 majority enjoyed by Republicans in Texas' delegation in Washington.
Hispanics have accounted for two-thirds of the state's growth since 2000. Yet during the two-week federal trial, opponents argued that GOP mapmakers went out of their way to stifle those gains and deny Hispanics greater voting power.
Democrats argued that the map passed by the Texas Legislature this summer simply packed Hispanics and blacks into the same districts.
"As the only Hispanic congressman intervenor in the redistricting lawsuit filed against the State of Texas in the U.S. Western District Court of Texas, I am deeply concerned that although the Texas population has grown by 4.3 million people over the last 10 years, 70 percent Hispanic and a total 90 percent minority, the maps drawn by the Texas Legislature are a far cry from correlating to this reality," Congressman Henry Cuellar said in a statement after the ruling.
"While I am in agreement with the Justice Department's findings, I am also aware that we still have a process to go through before we accomplish our goal: fair representation for all Texas," he added.