The term gerrymandering to describe the political manipulation of electoral districts may date to 1812, when Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry approved a map that included an oddly shaped district said to look like a salamander.
The Republican-controlled Texas Legislature racially gerrymandered several congressional districts in 2011 to counteract the growing number of Hispanic voters in the state, a panel of three federal judges ruled Friday.
In a statement released Saturday, state Rep. Abel Herrero, D-Robstown, wrote that by "confirming that the voting rights of Texans were violated, the recent court ruling reminds us all that the efforts to end discriminatory practices is far from over". But the judges in their 2-1 decision didn't propose an immediate fix, and Texas could appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The long-awaited ruling does not instruct the state on how to remedy the problem, but it does state three districts were drawn with the intent of "packing" Hispanic voters into their own heavily Democratic districts, thereby making other districts easier for Republicans to win. Bush appointee, and Orlando L. Garcia, a Bill Clinton appointee, found the district lines unlawful.
It was not clear whether Texas would appeal the ruling. According to a lawsuit filed by a host of civil rights groups, "even though Whites' share of the population declined from 52 percent to 45 percent, they remain the majority in 70 percent of Congressional Districts".
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The decision could have far-reaching consequences for Texas politics and elections.
Judge Jerry Smith wrote a sharp dissent, with harsh words for the Justice Department.
"It was obvious, from the start, that the DoJ attorneys viewed state officials and the legislative majority and their staffs as a bunch of backwoods hayseed bigots who bemoan the abolition of the poll tax and pine for the days of literacy tests and lynchings", wrote Smith, an appointee of former Republican President Ronald Reagan. "And the DoJ lawyers saw themselves as an expeditionary landing party arriving here, just in time, to rescue the state from oppression, obviously presuming that plaintiffs' counsel were not up to the task".
The Voting Rights Act was never meant to guarantee the election of minority congressmen. Politically motivated redistricting is legal, but redistricting with an intent to reduce the influence of minority voters - either by "packing" those voters into a district, or "cracking" them among multiple districts - is not. But it has outlived its usefulness, as the Supreme Court recognized in 2013.