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After federal judges in April 2017 ruled that Texas Republicans had intentionally diluted minority voting strength when they redrew U.S. and Texas House districts, a Democratic legislator said it wasn't the first time — or even the fifth.
Six rulings? We wondered.
When we inquired, Jaclyn Uresti, executive director of MALC, emailed us a list that added up to six decisions, all of which we confirmed from news accounts and court rulings:
August 28, 2012: In a case brought by the U.S. Justice Department three federal judges ruled that the Republican-led state had "not met its burden to show that the U.S. Congressional and State House Plans will not have a retrogressive effect, and that the U.S. Congressional and State Senate Plans were not enacted with discriminatory purpose." In rejecting the argument from state attorneys, the court said the maps had "the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority group" in violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The opinion came from U.S. District Judges Rosemary Collyer and Beryl Howell, and Circuit Judge Thomas Griffith.
August 30, 2012: In a unanimous ruling, three judges in Washington, D.C., issued the first of what were to become several decisions that blocked the state’s photo ID law, which requires Texans to present a state-issued photo ID before casting a ballot at the polls, though as of August 2016 in accord with a federal court ruling a voter could vote after providing another form of ID, such as a utility bill, after signing an affidavit explaining why they were unable to obtain one of the IDs allowed under the law. "A law that forces poorer citizens to choose between their wages and their franchise unquestionably denies or abridges their right to vote," the opinion said, adding that the law was intentionally discriminatory. "Simply put, many Hispanics and African Americans who voted in the last election will, because of the burdens imposed by (the law), likely be unable to vote in the next election." The panel included Judges David S. Tatel, Rosemary Mayers Collyer and Robert Leon Wilkins, who serve on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. (In January 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up a request from Texas officials to reinstate the voter ID law, but the court said it might consider the case at a later date.)
October 9, 2014: In a case brought by U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos of Corpus Christi ruled the voter ID law violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by disproportionately and intentionally burdening African American and Latino voters. She blocked the law from going into effect and said it amounted to an unconstitutional poll tax.
March 10, 2017: A three-judge panel ruled, in a case brought by Shannon Perez, a Latina Democratic Bexar County voter represented by pro-Democratic attorneys Rick Gray and David Richards of Austin, that Republican lawmakers in 2011 drew three of the state’s 36 congressional districts in a way that discriminated against Latino voters. Districts 23 and 27, both represented by Republicans, and District 35, were held by a Democrat. The court found fault in the district lines in their current forms, but did not order legislators to redraw them. This ruling brought a 2-1 split on the court. U.S. District Judges Orlando Garcia and Xavier Rodriguez ruled in favor, District Judge David Smith dissented.
April 10, 2017: Judge Ramos of Corpus Christi -- reviewing Veasey’s voter ID case at the direction of U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5h Circuit -- found that the 2011 Legislature intentionally discriminated against minority voters by advancing the mandate that each voter present a photo ID if casting a ballot at the polls. Most recently, the 2017 Legislature revised the voter ID law, in an attempt to alleviate Ramos’s concerns that the list of acceptable IDs was too strict, but Democrats argued the reforms were not nearly far-reaching enough. Ramos was expected to issue an updated ruling, taking into account the adopted changes, later in 2017.
April 20, 2017: The pair of federal judges who ruled against Texas in March 2017 decided, in a new case brought by Democrats, that Republican lawmakers in 2011 redrew Texas House districts with the intention of diluting the electoral strength of minority voters in several parts of the state. "The impact of the plan was certainly to reduce minority voting opportunity statewide, resulting in even less proportional representation for minority voters," according to the court’s 2-1 opinion, with Smith dissenting. "Discussions among map drawers demonstrated a hostility to creating any new minority districts, as those were seen to be a loss of Republican seats, despite the massive minority population growth statewide."
The cited rulings looked to us like six instances of federal judges all finding intentional discrimination by the 2011 Legislature.
That finding, if it sticks, could have significant consequences (though it’s also worth keeping in mind that after the 2020 U.S. census, the 2021 Legislature will be expected to redraw districts afresh based on changes in the state’s population since 2010).
To our inquiry, Justin Levitt, a constitutional law professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles and former civil rights attorney in the Department of Justice under President Obama, said as little as a single judicial finding of intentional discrimination by Texas lawmakers could fuel a court to reimpose a previous decades-long requirement that any changes in state election law be submitted to the Justice Department or a federal court before taking effect.
That "preclearance" hurdle went away for Texas and other jurisdictions, mostly southern states, when the Supreme Court in 2012 found unconstitutional a provision in the Voting Rights Act specifying when a state or local government must face preclearance.
Levitt said of Anchia’s claim: "If you include intentional discrimination, there’s no question the number is six. Six is a giant number when it comes to this. A court only needs one example to suffice, so five or six is a lot."
Anchia said that six times since 2011, federal rulings found intentional discrimination by the Texas Legislature.
We confirmed six such rulings from August 2012 through April 2017 issued by federal judges regarding Republican-drawn U.S. House and Texas House districts or the GOP-driven law requiring voters to present photo identification at the polls.
We rate the claim True.
TRUE – The statement is accurate and there’s nothing significant missing. Click here for more on the six PolitiFact ratings and how we select facts to check.
Court opinions, State of Texas v. Eric Holder and Wendy Davis, Aug. 28, 2016; State of Texas v. Eric Holder, Aug. 30, 2012; Marc Veasey v. Rick Perry, Oct. 9, 2014; Shannon Perez v. Greg Abbott, March 10, 2017; Marc Veasey v. Greg Abbott, April 10, 2017; Shannon Perez v. Greg Abbott, April 20, 2017
News stories, The Washington Post, "Texas redistricting discriminates against minorities, federal court says," Aug. 28, 2012; "Texas voter-ID law is blocked," Aug. 30, 2012; "Appeals court says Texas voter-ID law discriminates against minorities," July 20, 2016
News story, "Judge Rules Texas Voter ID Law Unconstitutional," The Texas Tribune, Oct. 9, 2016
News stories, Austin American-Statesman, "Court voids 3 Texas congressional districts," March 11, 2017; "Court: Texas House map drawn to dilute minority voters," April 20, 2017
News story, "Judge: voting rights law intentionally discriminates," Houston Chronicle, April 10, 2017
Phone interview, Justin Levitt, associate dean for research, Loyola Law School, June 9, 2017
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