U.S. Supreme Court Hands Redistricting Win to Texas Republicans, for Now

by | September 13, 2017

By Allie Morris

A divided U.S. Supreme Court blocked two lower court rulings late Tuesday that had required Texas to redraw certain congressional and state House districts after the lower courts ruled the district lines unconstitutional.

The high court's hold will remain in place while it weighs the state's appeal, though a timeline has yet to be set on hearing the appeal.

That means Texas might have to go through the 2018 primary elections in March using districts that federal judges have said were intentionally drawn to discriminate against Latino and African-American voters.

"I can't say that I am pleased with this. I can't say that I am surprised by it either," said Jose Garza, counsel to the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuits. "At the end of the day, it may all work out. Maybe it's better to have this discriminatory plan in front of the court and have the state of Texas try to defend it sooner rather than later."

Bexar County Elections Administrator Jacque Callanen testified earlier this year that election offices must mail out voter registration cards by early October; that's 1 million in Bexar County alone. The cards indicate a voter's federal and state districts. And candidates are scheduled to begin filing for their party's primaries in November.

The other possibility is that the March elections are delayed. In 2012, the state was forced to postpone primary elections in the wake of legal challenges from civil rights groups and minority advocates to political maps drawn the year before.

Advocacy groups argue the maps in question intentionally dilute minorities' voting power, by cramming them into a single district, or splitting them up across too many.

The state has been operating under temporary court-ordered maps drawn for the 2012 elections and adopted by the Legislature in 2013.

This summer, a three-judge federal panel in San Antonio invalidated some of those districts, finding they violate the U.S. Constitution and the U.S. Voting Rights Act.

The panel ruled that Texas' Congressional District 27, now held by Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi, and District 35, now held by Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, were drawn with discriminatory intent aimed at diluting minorities' voting strength.

Similarly, the panel ordered the state to redraw nine legislative districts due to "intentional discrimination" by race. None of the affected districts are in Bexar County; several are in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

The state and those suing had been set to meet last week to fix violations and take up remedial maps. The hearings were canceled after the Supreme Court temporarily blocked the lower court rulings.

Tuesday, the high court extended that stay on a 5-4 vote with Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan in the minority.

Attorney General Ken Paxton, who sought the stay, did not return a request for comment.

Chad Dunn, the Texas Democratic Party's general counsel, said he believes the evidence of discriminatory intent in the maps is so strong, the Supreme Court will agree when it finally hears the case.

"Getting a final resolution to this matter ... is a step in the right direction," he said.

(c)2017 the San Antonio Express-News