St. Mary's Law Journal


Every decade, after the federal government has taken the census, Americans endure the process of redistricting Congress, state legislatures, county commissioner precincts, school boards, city councils, and a host of other elected bodies. Governed by the interplay of federal, state, and local law, the reapportionment process would seem to be a relatively easy task in theory. Yet, overriding forces unique to the political arena and the judiciary’s voice in redistricting questions undermine the implementation of such a simple system. Narrow interpretation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by the United State Supreme Court and lower federal courts further intensify this controversy. In contrast, Texas state courts, relying on the equal rights provisions in the Texas Bill of Rights, have attempted to safeguard the voting rights of those claiming racial bias in reapportionment. To date, only one state court appellate decision has squarely addressed the effect of the Texas Bill of Rights on the redistricting process. Texas’ initial legislation reapportionment scheme violated both the Texas Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) and the equal rights section of the state bill of rights. The redistricting plan violated the ERA because the effect was discrimination against Mexican Americans and African Americans on account of race and ethnicity. The state had no compelling or rational interest in maintaining a reapportionment scheme which effectively disenfranchised sizeable segments of its citizens. The reapportionment scheme also violated the equal rights section of the Texas Constitution because it burdened a fundamental right of two racial and ethnic groups which have historically suffered illegal discrimination—groups now protected by the ERA. Because the redistricting system was not reasonably designed to achieve a substantial interest, no reasonable basis existed for maintaining the reapportionment scheme. And the reapportionment scheme was therefore properly rendered unconstitutional.


St. Mary's University School of Law