Supreme Court rules against Latino-friendly Texas voting map
The high court’s ruling could aid Texas Republicans in the state’s fierce redistricting battle, which has placed Latino voters in the eye of the storm. (Flickr: TexasGOPvote.com)
The thorny Texas redistricting case took an unexpected turn on Thursday, when the Supreme Court knocked down a redistricting map drawn by a San Antonio court that favored minority voters and Democrats.
The case centers around congressional maps drawn by Texas Republicans that Latino groups and Democrats argued diluted the voting power of Latinos and other minority voters. Texas gained four new congressional seats as a result of the 2010 Census due to population growth, which was sparked by a two-thirds increase of the Latino population there.
Latino civil rights groups argue that growth was not reflected in the new district maps, but Republicans countered that the complaints were pretext for Democrats to expand their ability to win seats in the Lone Star State.
The ruling made the outcome of the redistricting battle, which could help determine who wins control of the House of Representatives, even more uncertain.
The Washington Post explains why the decision was made
In an unsigned opinion that drew no dissents, the justices said a federal panel in San Antonio “exceeded its mission” in drawing interim plans for the state’s upcoming primaries. It said the court was wrong to believe its plans needed to be completely independent of the ones passed by the legislature.
“A district court should take guidance from the state’s recently enacted plan in drafting an interim plan,” the justices wrote. They added, however, that courts must be careful not to incorporate parts of a state’s plan that might violate the Constitution and the federal Voting Rights Act.
The Supreme Court’s mission was complicated by the fact that the Voting Rights Act had meant Texas’s redistricting was being considered in two courts with different objectives.
Because of past discrimination against minorities, Texas is one of the states covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. That means its electoral laws cannot take effect until they are “pre-cleared” — approved by the Justice Department or a panel of federal judges in Washington.
Texas chose to go the judicial route, and a three-judge panel in Washington this week held a trial to consider the Section 5 challenges. It is not expected to rule until next month.
Until that is settled, the San Antonio judges were charged with drawing an interim map, so that Texas’s elections could proceed. The current plan cannot be used because the population growth means it would violate “one-man, one-vote” standards.
The court’s order noted the difficulties facing the San Antonio judges. The plan passed by the legislature cannot be used, the justices agreed, because it has not been pre-cleared.
“But that does not mean that the plan is of no account or that the policy judgments it reflects can be disregarded by a district court drawing an interim plan,” the justices wrote. “On the contrary, the state plan serves as a starting point for the district court.”
The court was especially critical of the San Antonio judges for drawing a congressional district that appeared to be a “minority coalition” district. The justices said it was unclear whether the San Antonio judges intentionally drew a district in which they expected two different minority groups to band together to form a majority.