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Politics

Asian American groups file a legal challenge to Texas' redistricting plans

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

People of color accounted for virtually all of Texas' population growth over the past 10 years, yet when lawmakers meant to redraw the state's congressional maps, they actually created more white-majority districts. The Justice Department is now suing Texas for violating the voting rights of its Latino and Black citizens, but the suit only makes passing mention of one of the state's fastest-growing racial groups - Asian Americans. Houston Public Media's Andrew Schneider has more.

ANDREW SCHNEIDER, BYLINE: Fort Bend County, southwest of Houston, sits at the heart of Texas' 22nd Congressional District. It's home to the state's biggest Asian American population, including large numbers of immigrants. So when the Texas Legislature met to redraw congressional maps, many Asian Americans hoped Texas-22 would reflect that. But that didn't happen, says Nabila Mansoor.

NABILA MANSOOR: What's actually happened is that, even though we've seen the population grow and really been charged by immigrants, those lines, when they were redrawn, have been redrawn in a way such that it's actually diluted our power.

SCHNEIDER: Mansoor is a resident of Sugar Land, where she met me at a restaurant. She's headed the local chapter of Asian American Democrats of Texas and was redrawn out of the 22nd District.

MANSOOR: Sugar Land is a very Asian American-heavy city, and yet it is divvied up in three districts such that its immigrant population has lost out on the chance to get some real representation.

SCHNEIDER: Texas-22 was a safe Republican congressional seat for decades, reelecting such conservative stalwarts as Tom DeLay and Pete Olson. But in 2018 and 2020, the district became highly competitive. Democrat Sri Preston Kulkarni came close to flipping the seat both years thanks in no small part to the near doubling of the Asian American population in Fort Bend County. But attorney and activist Niloufar Hafizi says Republicans have made sure that won't happen in 2022.

NILOUFAR HAFIZI: Our concerns are that it has been redrawn explicitly to keep Troy Nehls in office as a Republican.

SCHNEIDER: And how would it do that?

HAFIZI: I don't know how to say this in a different way, but it whitens the district.

SCHNEIDER: Craig Goodman teaches political science at the University of Houston at Victoria.

CRAIG GOODMAN: Under the old boundaries, you know, this was basically a 50-50 district - Democrat and Republican at the presidential level. With the new boundaries, it shifts the district that it's a plus-16 Republican district at the presidential level.

SCHNEIDER: Goodman says Republicans did the same thing elsewhere.

GOODMAN: From Dallas-Fort Worth to the 2nd Congressional District also in Houston, we're seeing this broader pattern of shoring up these districts that were trending Democratic and figuring out ways to kind of move enough voters around to basically allow Republicans to maintain the status quo.

SCHNEIDER: That suits the 22nd's Republicans just fine. Precinct chairman David Vrshek says there's nothing wrong with Texas GOP lawmakers drawing boundaries that benefit them. Vrshek notes Democrats have done the same thing.

DAVID VRSHEK: You know, they complain about redistricting in Texas, and at the same time, they're - they turn a blind eye to redistricting in Illinois and other places.

SCHNEIDER: The Princeton Gerrymandering Project, associated with Princeton University, gave Illinois' congressional maps an F for partisan fairness, the same failing grade it gave Texas. Meanwhile, the Justice Department is moving ahead with its lawsuit against Texas with scant reference to the Asian American community. But the community may have its day in court yet. The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund has filed its own legal challenge to the state's redistricting plans, saying CD-22 is a prime example of anti-Asian discrimination.

For NPR News, I'm Andrew Schneider in Houston.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.