A coalition of AAPI voters is suing the state of Texas for allegedly suppressing the voting power of minorities through last year's redistricting.
Amatullah Contractor, who is among the group of plaintiffs filing a lawsuit against Governor Greg Abbott and Secretary of State John Scott, was recently redistricted from her diverse and liberal-leaning 7th district to the more rural and conservative 8th district when Texas legislators redrew the maps last year.
“"One of my main concerns with these maps is that they were drawn with almost predetermined outcomes," Contractor told Houston Public Media. "So going into the 2022 election, I already know who my representative is going to be immediately after the primary, just because of the way that it was drawn."
The rezoning of electoral districts has allegedly blocked AAPI representation on the congressional level by breaking up Fort Bend County, home of one of the largest groups of AAPI voters, and significantly hindering the election prospects of Sri Preston Kulkarni — an Asian American democratic candidate for Congressional District 22.
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“Congressional District 22 was really the only chance we would have had to send an Asian American to Congress,” Nabila Mansoor, executive director of the progressive organization Rise AAPI, told Houston Public Media. “That has now been taken away.”
The plaintiffs’ legal team is composed of civil rights organizations, including Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), and attorneys from New York University's Brennan Center for Justice and the law firm of Paul, Weiss.
Jerry Mattamala, the director of the Democracy Program at AALDEF, called the conflation of minority Asian American communities with majority white rural populations “the most brazen, clear case of vote dilution," and attributed the practice to a 2013 Supreme Court precedent that struck down part of the Voting Rights Act.
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"I’m pretty sure, as most of my colleagues would also agree, that if we still had federal preclearance under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, these lines would not have satisfied preclearance," Vattamala told Houston Public Media.
While critics of the lawsuit claim that because of the constant influx and movement of ethnic groups within Texas, it is “not mathematically geographically possible” to limit racial groups into select districts in a “diverse and spread out” state, voter advocacy groups argue that the goal of the suit is not about keeping ethnic groups together but preventing them from being deliberately split apart.
"We were very wide eyed and aware that there is currently no geographic area of Texas where we could have advocated for an Asian American or AAPI majority district," Lily Trieu, interim executive director of Asian Texans for Justice, told Houston Public Media. "We were simply asking for fair maps and to not split our communities. And unfortunately, that’s not what happened. Our communities continue to be split anyway."
Because the lawsuit is scheduled to go to trial at the end of September, its verdict will not arrive on time to impact congressional and state legislative midterm elections this fall.
"In the event that these lines are ruled unconstitutional or otherwise illegal, if it is going to happen at all, it will be after the midterm elections,” Vattamala said. “And that’s a real shame, because Texas and several other states have no problem at all proceeding with illegal or unconstitutional lines."
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