WASHINGTON — The Justice Department sued Texas on Monday over the state’s plan to redraw its voting districts, saying that the plan enacted by the Republican-led legislature diluted the significance of ballots cast by Black and Latino voters, essentially making their votes count for less than those of their fellow citizens.
In announcing the suit, Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said that the redistricting plan that Texas approved violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which says that voters cannot be denied equal access to the political process based on their race or ethnicity.
Texas’ redistricting plan “denies Black and Latino voters the equal opportunity to participate in the election process,” and some aspects of the plan were created “with discriminatory intent,” Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta said at a news conference to announce the Justice Department lawsuit.
Ms. Gupta said that the Texas plan was enacted after a rushed process that provided minimal opportunities for public comment and no public testimony.
The Justice Department’s lawsuit comes as President Biden and congressional Democrats face sustained pressure to combat Republican state legislatures around the nation that have sought to curb voting access.
Mr. Garland said that the Biden administration has only a limited ability to keep states from enacting discriminatory voting laws — even though the Justice Department has prioritized the issue and doubled its enforcement staff — because a 2013 Supreme Court decision ended the department’s authority to approve or deny voting laws and redistricting plans before they went into effect.
Even though the Justice Department has previously sued Texas, as well as Georgia, over laws limiting ballot access, and filed statements of support in lawsuits brought by private plaintiffs in Florida and Arizona about laws in those states, those new statutes could be in effect for multiple election cycles before the courts decide whether they are constitutional.
He asked Congress to restore that authority to the Justice Department and said that the Texas redistricting plan and other measures that the administration believes curbs minority access to the ballot box would not have been enacted if the department had that authority.