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The 29th Congressional District was created after the 1990 census found that a population increase in Texas, largely in urban minority populations, resulted in its gain of three additional congressional seats. The Texas Legislature presented a redistricting plan that among other things, created District 29, a new majority Hispanic District in Harris County and District 30, a new majority African American District in Dallas County. This plan also reconfigured the 18th Congressional District, making it a majority African American District. The U.S. Justice Department pre-cleared the redistricting plan, and it was used in the 1992 Congressional elections.
As a result of court actions, the number of Hispanics in the District has fluctuated during its history. The original district's minority population was 61% Hispanic, and 10% African American; and the current population rests at 62.2% Hispanic, 15.3 African American and 20% Anglo.
The District has gone through several reconfigurations during its history, causing confusion among voters and additional expense for election officials. Originally, the 29th District was spread throughout Harris County, with Baytown to the East and Spring Branch to the West. The district went north as far as the Houston Intercontinental Airport, with South Houston and parts of Pasadena on the southern boundary. This district also included the Houston Heights, Galena Park, Jacinto City, the Aldine area, as well as the East End portion of the Houston Ship Channel.
This district was later described by the Courts as resembling:
"a sacred Mayan bird, with its body running eastward along the Ship Channel from downtown Houston until the tail terminates in Baytown. Spindly legs reach south to Hobby Airport, while the plumed head rises Northward almost to Intercontinental. In the western extremity of the District, an open beak appears to be searching for worms in Spring Branch. Here and there, ruffled feathers jut out at odd angles."
Barone & Ujifusa, supra, at 1335.
Harris County was forced to increase its voting precincts from 672 to 1,225 in order to accommodate the new Congressional boundaries. Polling places, ballot forms, and election clerks had to be added, and voters were moved into new precinct alignments, some with as few as 20 voters. The borders of Districts 18 and 29 changed from block to block, and from one side of the street to the other.
In 1994, lawsuits were filed in the U.S. District Courts by a group challenging the lines of the 18th, 29th and 30th Congressional districts, claiming unconstitutional racial gerrymandering, and seeking the drawing of new district lines for all three of the majority minority districts. The incumbent Members of Congress were opposed to the redrawing of their districts. They had been duly elected, and had formed a bond with their constituencies that they did not want broken.
Nevertheless, the U.S. District Court ruled that the districts be redrawn. The case was appealed, and after finally reaching the U.S. Supreme Court in 1996, the District Court judgment was affirmed. The Congressional districts redrawn by the U.S. District Court judges created a 29th district with 48% Hispanic and 15% African American population.
The 1996 election was held using the newly redrawn lines. Rather than completely changing the makeup of these districts, they were made more compact, with concise boundaries. The 29th District lost Baytown, Spring Branch, and the Heights. The district still included South Houston and parts of Pasadena to the south, and it now reached FM 1960 to the north. Also still included, were Houston's near North Side, East End, and the Galena Park area, and it added areas in Northeast Harris County.
During the 2001 Texas Legislative Session, the legislators declined to draw new Congressional District lines, deferring the job to U.S. District Court judges. Again, a three judge panel redrew the boundaries, making a few changes, and the 2002 elections were held using the new lines.
The redistricting issue was brought back into play during the 2003 Legislative Session. No redistricting bill was passed during the regular session, but Special Sessions were called, resulting in yet another redrawing of Congressional lines. Although litigation is still pending on the new districts, effective January 2005, the 29th District lost the area north of Greens Road and once again includes parts of Baytown.
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