The Department of Justice on Monday sued Texas to block the state’s new redistricting plans, arguing in a complaint that district maps drawn and approved by the Republican state legislature “refused to recognize the state’s growing minority electorate.”
The heavily gerrymandered maps violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Justice Department said, because they deny equal representation to the state’s Black and Latino voters.
Attorney General Merrick Garland and Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta made the announcement during a news conference at the Justice Department.
The lawsuit is the first the Justice Department has filed over gerrymandered maps during this year’s redistricting cycle. The department, which has filed numerous lawsuits against states that have restricted voting rights this year, warned in September that it would act against any state that moved too aggressively to gerrymander maps in a way that diluted minority representation.
That’s precisely what Texas did, the department alleged in the complaint filed Monday.
Texans of color are responsible for 95% of Texas’ population growth over the past decade, according to recent census figures. But the new maps significantly limit their political power, the department determined, citing the fact that while the minority population growth resulted in the state gaining two new seats in the U.S. House, lawmakers drew both districts to have white-majority populations.
“Our investigation determined that Texas’ redistricting plans will dilute the increased minority voting strength that should have developed from these significant demographic shifts,” Gupta said at the news conference.
The lawsuit also asserted that Texas lawmakers “intentionally eliminated” a chance for Latinos to elect their preferred candidate in an El Paso district, failed to create a district in the Houston area that fairly included a growing Latino population, and “surgically excised minority communities” from a Dallas-area congressional district by attaching them instead to rural areas in which white voters make up an overwhelming majority.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) signed off on the new maps in late October, over cries from voting rights advocates that they would systematically disenfranchise minority Texans. The maps, as they stand, would almost certainly guarantee that Republicans hold on to majorities in the Texas Legislature over the next decade, despite the growth of Latino and Black populations that have made the state more competitive for Democrats in recent years.
Under the new maps, white Texans would make up the majority population of 23 of the state’s 38 congressional districts, 89 of its 150 state House districts and 20 of its 31 state Senate districts, meaning a population that makes up roughly 40% of Texas as a whole would make up majorities in roughly 60% of its districts.
Latino Texans, who account for roughly 40% of the population, would make up the majority in just 20% of those districts. And Black Texans, who make up about 12% of the Texas population, would be the majority in less than 3% of districts.
Discrimination is a routine feature of Texas’ redistricting plans: Federal courts have found the state in violation of the Voting Rights Act in each redistricting cycle since 1970.
During the news conference, Garland called on Congress to restore the Justice Department’s “preclearance authority,” which previously required states with a history of discrimination to seek pre-approval for major voting or election changes from the attorney general. In 2013, the Supreme Court invalidated Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which mandated preclearance for states like Texas.
The lawsuit is the latest action the Justice Department has taken to try to protect minority voting rights from an onslaught of new GOP-backed laws in the wake of former President Donald Trump’s defeat in the 2020 election. Trump’s lies about the 2020 election have convinced millions of Republican voters that there was mass voter fraud, and Republican legislators across the country have supported new restrictions to appease voters who believe those lies.
The DOJ sued Georgia over its GOP-backed voting laws in June, arguing there was unlawful discriminatory intent in the package of laws passed in the wake of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. Last month, the DOJ sued Texas over newly imposed voting restrictions. The Justice Department also filed statements of interest in several voting rights cases brought by private plaintiffs against the states of Arizona, Texas and Florida.
The department has also said it is working to protect election workers who received threats from conspiracy theorists who believe Trump’s lies about the election. The Justice Department increased staffing in the voting section of its civil rights division earlier this year to help combat voting restrictions.
The news comes as Trump continues to spread lies about the 2020 election and with only 11 months left until the 2022 midterms.
Read the Justice Department’s lawsuit against Texas in full:
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.