The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is suing Texas over its congressional redistricting plans, and a local Fort Bend County representative received a mention in the lawsuit.
In an interview with the Fort Bend Star last week, State Rep. Jacey Jetton blasted the DOJ’s efforts to stop the state’s redistricting plans, and said he was proud of the work he did on the House redistricting committee.
Jetton represents House District 26, which previously included Sugar Land, but will now include Richmond and part of Rosenberg.
“I think the lawsuit is meritless,” he said. “The maps we are moving forward with were the result of an open and lengthy process. It’s hard to point anywhere and say anything was done with the intention of disenfranchising.”
The Republican-controlled Texas Legislature recently completed redrawing the state’s congressional districts in a special session. The new maps will have to survive several ongoing court challenges before going into effect, but will otherwise begin in 2022.
Redistricting takes place every 10 years in Texas to apportion federal and state legislative districts based on population numbers generated via the census.
Because the process in Texas is explicitly partisan, the new congressional maps tend to generate controversy, with attorneys in the DOJ’s lawsuit asserting the state disenfranchised Latino and Black voters in drawing the new maps.
“Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act requires that state voting laws- including laws that draw electoral maps- provide eligible voters with an equal opportunity to participate in the democratic process and elect representatives of their choosing,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a news release.
The DOJ’s complaint mentioned the Fort Bend County representative because he authored an amendment during the process that changed the congressional districts in Bexar County, despite the fact that the county’s delegation had already agreed to a plan for that area.
“The house approved the amendment over the objection of most of the Bexar County delegation and established the final configuration of District 118,” the complaint asserts.
Jetton, meanwhile, argued his actions came as part of his role on the House’s redistricting committee, and that the committee made decisions transparently.
“The main factor in our decisions were equal population distribution,” Jetton said. “The next factor was preserving communities of interest, and ensuring we adhered to the Voting Rights Act.”
From there, it’s also reasonable to consider partisan interests, Jetton said. In fact, political interests could be considered communities of interest, Jetton said.
President Joe Biden’s administration almost had to intercede in Texas’ redistricting efforts because of political expectations that they do so, said Brandon Rottinghaus, a professor of political science at the University of Houston.
But it’s not clear whether or not the legal challenges will actually change any of the congressional district boundaries, given recent court decisions giving more benefit of the doubt to those drawing boundaries, Rottinghaus said.
“There’ve been a lot of claims about districts being discriminatory, but nothing will undo the entirety of the lines,” Rottinghaus said. “The plaintiffs are looking for a series of small battles in a great war. They’re hoping to win a few, but they’re not going to win the war.”
In order to change any of the district boundaries, plaintiffs would need to prove intentional discrimination, a bar that is tough to clear, Rottinghaus said.