U.S. sues Texas, says discriminatory redistricting dilutes Black, Hispanic vote

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WASHINGTON, Dec 6 (Reuters) - The U.S. Justice Department sued Texas on Monday alleging the state violated the Voting Rights Act by creating redistricting plans that intentionally discriminate against Black and minority voters by minimizing their voting strength.

"The complaint we filed today alleges that Texas has violated section two by creating redistricting plans that deny or abridge the rights of Latino and Black voters to vote on account of their race, color or membership in a language minority group," U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland told reporters at a news conference.

In its complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, the Justice Department said the 2020 Census showed that Latinos are on track to become the state's largest population group, and that non-white Latino voters account for less than 40% of the state's population.

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"Soon after the release of 2020 Census data, the Texas Legislature enacted redistricting plans for the Texas Congressional delegation and the Texas House through an extraordinarily rapid and opaque legislative process," the complaint says.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Twitter defended the state's actions, saying, "The Department of Justice's absurd lawsuit against our state is the Biden Administration's latest ploy to control Texas voters."

The lawsuit is the first filed by the Justice Department during President Joe Biden's administration taking aim at redistricting, the once-a-decade process that state legislatures use to redraw congressional districts.

Texas will gain two seats in the U.S. House of Representatives after next year's election due to population growth, the most of any state this cycle.

TEXAS VOTER LAWS

This is the Justice Department's second lawsuit against Texas this year over voting rights.

It in early November sued Texas over a new law that curbs mail-in voting, alleging it improperly restricts disabled voters or voters who cannot read or write from being able to receive adequate assistance at voting locations.

That lawsuit challenged a law making it tougher to cast ballots through the mail by preventing officials from sending unsolicited mail-in ballot applications. It also adds new identification requirements for mail-in voting, prohibits drive-through and 24-hour voting locations, limits early voting and restricts who can help voters requiring assistance because of disabilities or language barriers.

Earlier this year, the department sued Georgia after it enacted a new election law that the Justice Department said infringes on the rights of Black voters.

The two states are among a growing number of Republican-led U.S. states passing new laws restricting voting access amid former President Donald Trump's continued false claims that his election defeat was the result of widespread fraud.

The Justice Department's authority over redistricting issues has been weakened in recent years, after the conservative-majority Supreme Court in 2013 gutted a key section of the Voting Rights Act that required states to get pre-clearance from the Justice Department before re-drawing their districts.

Garland told reporters that while the department no longer has the power to examine re-districting before it goes into effect, it can still evaluate it for discriminatory impacts afterwards.

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Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Scott Malone and Aurora Ellis

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