MALDEF Redistricting Lawsuits on the Horizon

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CHICAGO—The Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund may file a mass of lawsuits this year against several states that it thinks did an inadequate job of acknowledging Latino population growth in their 2011 redistricting plans.

Chapters of MALDEF in Illinois have expressed their displeasure with the legislative and congressional boundaries drawn by that state’s Legislature, saying they don’t think that neighborhoods consisting of Spanish-speaking enclaves were properly respected.

Down in Texas, MALDEF chapters were influential in the Texas Latino Redistricting Task Force giving the Texas Legislature an “F” for the political boundaries they drew for the upcoming decade.

Texas is a state that had enough population growth to warrant adding four additional members of Congress—more than any other state in the 2011 redistricting—and 65 percent of that population growth was Latino.

Yet the Republican political establishment that has control these days of Texas state government seemed more interested in keeping the growing number of Latinos in check. Actually creating more Latino political representation would have been too likely to benefit the Democratic Party opposition.

“State lawmakers allowed partisan wrangling and incumbency protection to trump fairness and the will of the people,” a Texas MALDEF official, Nina Perales, recently said in the Dallas Morning News.

Latinos don't gain a thing in terms of legislative or congressional districts in Texas, even though the 2010 Census indicates the total Texas population includes about 9.5 million people of various Latino ethnic descents.

Not that I’m surprised. I would have been surprised had the Texas officials acknowledged reality and created more Latino political representation. If anything, these kinds of actions ought to be the ultimate evidence that GOP officials are full of hot air when they say they have any real interest in bolstering the number of Latinos who vote for them.

Holding us in place is what they’re really interested in. But there are times when Democrats don’t show any more support for the growing segment of our society than the GOP does.

Take Illinois, where Democrats control the process and Republicans can do nothing more than whine.

There, the number of state legislative districts represented by Latinos likely will increase from about a dozen to about 20 (out of 177), although theoretically it is possible for up to 28 such districts to be created.

But when it comes to electoral politics, “theory” and “reality” are two different things. Theoretical districts might not translate into Latino elected officials and would also likely displace other groups that also have interests in bolstering their own political representation.

But MALDEF officials have their own objections, although they don’t coincide with those of other Latino activist groups in the state. Which makes it seem like Latinos in the Land of Lincoln (all 2 million of them) aren’t sure what we want.

MALDEF officials are complaining that the largest Mexican-oriented neighborhood in Chicago wasn’t kept intact with its own political representation – instead being split up into several legislative districts.

Yet I don't hear them complaining about the fact that 2 million Latinos in Illinois weren’t considered sufficient to justify more than one Congressional district – the one now represented by Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill.

I’m sure these aren’t the only disputes they’re going to have. For political reapportionment has taken place this spring in all 50 states – every one of which has a growing Latino population.

Which means similar disputes are likely to take place across the country and MALDEF officials likely will be busy – along with other activist groups – in taking on legal battles to bolster Latino political representation.