In a rather extraordinary development, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott is admitting that the Republican-controlled legislature in that state gerrymandered their electoral districts to hurt Democrats’ chances of winning a majority of seats. He did so because it’s better to admit to that then to gerrymandering for racial reasons.
It’s not exactly a big secret that Texas Republicans drew their state’s district lines in order to maximize the weight of Republican voters and minimize the voting strength of Democrats. Still, this isn’t normally something that a state’s top legal officer openly admits to in a brief filed with a federal court. Nevertheless, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott (R) is so confident that the courts will let Texas Republicans get away with rigging elections that he openly brags about his fellow Republicans’ efforts to do so in an official court filing. According to a brief Abbott filed earlier this month, “[i]n 2011, both houses of the Texas Legislature were controlled by large Republican majorities, and their redistricting decisions were designed to increase the Republican Party’s electoral prospects at the expense of the Democrats.”
The reason for this admission is that Texas is currently defending against a lawsuit seeking to bring its voting laws back under federal supervision in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision neutering the Voting Rights Act. A federal court recently found that Texas engaged in intentional race discrimination when it last drew its district lines, and a still-standing provision of the Voting Rights Act allows states that engage in such discrimination to be subject to federal supervision before they can enact new voting laws. Texas is now trying to defend against this attempt to bring them back under federal oversight by saying they weren’t engaged in racial gerrymandering at all — they were merely trying to rig elections so that Democrats would lose!
But this is not an either/or. Gerrymandering to hurt the Democrats is often accomplished by drawing districts in a manner that puts a huge portion of minority voters into a single district so they only get one elected representative rather than having enough of a voice in several districts to influence the overall outcome of the election. This goes on in nearly every state every ten years and the Democrats do it too (in fact, sometimes the Democrats prefer similarly ghettoized districts to ensure that minority voters have at least one representative). You can read Abbott’s full brief here.