The Texas legislature is made up of an upper house and a lower house. The Senate is the upper chamber and has thirty-one members while the House of Representatives is the lower house and has one hundred and fifty members (Texas Library). Members of the current legislature are predominantly from the country’s two largest political parties that are the Democratic and the Republican Parties, with the Republicans being the majority in both houses. The partisan composition of both chambers is significantly impacted by redistricting. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, Redistricting is the redrawing of district boundaries meant to ensure that the population among the districts is equal and that each voter has an equal say. The impacts of the redistricting process on the legislature of the State of Texas and the measure taken to ensure equality in representation in the legislature are explored in this essay.
Redistricting significantly influences the partisan composition of the state’s legislature. Gerrymandering, which refers to the manipulation of district lines to protect or change political power, is the force through which redistricting influences the partisan composition of the legislature. Gerrymandering has had significant impacts on the partisan composition of the state’s legislature. Democrats, being the majority, were in charge of 1991 redistricting (Levitt). They significantly reduced the number of potential Republican districts, and, hence, the number of Republicans in the legislature, by cramming Republican voters in large districts and giving themselves better chances of winning in adjacent districts. Redistricting has also been used to dilute the minority vote and, hence, their representation in the legislature (Levitt). For example, in 2003, over 100000 Latino voters were moved out of a district since they did not support an incumbent.
Various changes have been made to ensure equality in representation in the Texas Legislature. One such change is the formation of the Legislative Redistricting Board through a constitutional amendment in 1948 (Texas Government 2306—Unit 7 Lecture Notes-The Texas Legislature 48 Unit 7). The board was formed after the state failed to reapportion the seats in the legislature following the censuses of 1930 and 1940 because rural representatives were unwilling to give up their seats and control in the legislature. The board reapportioned the legislative seats in 1951 to ensure equality in representation following the census of 1950.
The 1964 ‘one person, one vote’ ruling in Reynolds v. Sims also enhanced the equality of representation in the Texas Legislature. Prior to the ruling, the state’s constitution prohibited any county from being represented by more than one senator, regardless of the county’s size and population. Additionally, a 1936 amendment to the state’s constitution limited the number of representatives any county could have to seven (Texas Government 2306—Unit 7 Lecture Notes-The Texas Legislature 48 Unit 7). As such, the state’s constitution limited the equality of representation in the legislature. For example, large population counties such as the urban counties of Dallas, Harris, and Bexar were severely underrepresented in both houses. In the case mentioned above, the US Supreme Court ruled that representation in both chambers of the state legislature had to be apportioned on the basis of population. Additionally, in 1965, a federal district court ruled against the provisions of the state’s constitution that limited a county’s representation in both houses of the legislature.
The 1965 Voting Rights Act was amended in 1982 by Congress to protect minorities against the dilution of their voting power (Texas Government 2306—Unit 7 Lecture Notes-The Texas Legislature 48 unit 7). The amendment was aimed at achieving maximum minorities’ representation and came after the 1981 invalidation of the redistricting plan by the Legislative Redistricting Board. Federal courts drew a new plan that created districts with a majority of ethnic minorities, thereby increasing their representation in the legislature. However, the practice of drawing districts primarily on the basis of race was outlawed by a series of US Supreme Court rulings in 1995 and 1996.
As discussed in the essay, redistricting influences the partisan composition of the state’s legislature. Through political gerrymandering, it affects the population of partisan voters in a district and, hence, winning party and candidate in such a district. The formation of the Legislative Redistricting Board, the ruling in Reynolds v. Sims and the amendment of the 1965 Voting Rights Act are significant measures taken in the past century to ensure equality in representation in the state’s legislature. The Legislative Redistricting Board reapportioned legislative seats based on population following the census of 1950 during the ruling in the Reynolds v. Sims case overruled the limitation on the number of representatives and senators a county could have. The amendment of the 1965 Voting Rights Act protected the minorities against the dilution of their voting power, thereby ensuring equal representation for them.
- Brennan Center for Justice,. ‘7 Things To Know About Redistricting | Brennan Center For Justice’. Brennancenter.org. N.p., 2013. Web. 20 Oct. 2015. ˂https://www.brennancenter.org/analysis/7-things-know-about-redistricting ˃
- Levitt, Justin. ‘All About Redistricting — Why Does It Matter’. Redistricting.lls.edu. N.p., 2015. Web. 20 Oct. 2015. ˂ http://redistricting.lls.edu/why.php ˃
- Texas Government 2306—Unit 7 Lecture Notes-The Texas Legislature 48 UNIT 7—The Texas Legislature. 1st ed. Web. 20 Oct. 2015. ˂https://www.odessa.edu/dept/govt/dille/brian/courses/2306C/UNIT7.pdf ˃
- Texas Library,. ‘Legislative Reference Library | Legislators and Leaders | Member Statistics’.Lrl.state.tx.us. N.p., 2015. Web. 20 Oct. 2015. ˂http://www.lrl.state.tx.us/legeLeaders/members/memberStatistics.cfm ˃