Supreme Court to Enter Tangled Texas Redistricting Case

Article excerpt

The Supreme Court on Monday will hear arguments over whether federal judges overstepped their authority when they revised state and congressional districts drawn by the Texas Legislature.

A bitter dispute over minority voting rights in Texas arrives at the US Supreme Court on Monday where the justices must decide which legislative districts will be used in upcoming elections.

At issue is whether federal judges in San Antonio overstepped their authority when they took it upon themselves to redraw congressional and state house election districts without any prior judicial determination that maps drawn for that purpose by the Texas Legislature were illegal or unconstitutional.

Texas officials object to using interim judge-drawn maps while election districts established by the state Legislature remain tied up in ongoing litigation.

With elections fast approaching, the Supreme Court is hearing on an expedited basis three consolidated cases that look at whether the judges' interim maps should be used or whether the judges should have relied more on the maps drawn by the Legislature.

Meanwhile, a federal three-judge panel in Washington is set to consider whether the original maps drawn by the Texas Legislature should be given preclearance for use in the upcoming election - and future elections - or whether there are parts of that must be amended to comply with the Voting Rights Act and the Constitution.

Texas had been scheduled to conduct its primary election on so- called Super Tuesday - March 6. But escalating legal battles have forced state officials to push the vote date back to April 3.

Now, with the Supreme Court involved, even that date may be in jeopardy.

Importance of the case

The case is significant because how election districts are apportioned can alter who is elected in each district. The case involves disputed maps for election districts for the Texas state Senate and House, and for members of Congress.

The election maps produced by the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature favored Republican candidates. In contrast, the maps drawn by the federal judges undercut many of those Republican preferences.

The legal case isn't about which party may or may not gain an advantage in election district line-drawing. Politicians care about that; judges should not. The central issue for the courts is whether maps drawn by state lawmakers comply with the requirements of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and with constitutional guarantees of one person, one vote.

Because Texas has a history of racial discrimination in elections, the Voting Rights Act requires the state to obtain prior approval from Washington before enacting any changes in its voting process - including drawing new election districts.

Texas sought approval last summer, but that process has bogged down. At the same time, several minority groups and candidates filed lawsuits in San Antonio objecting to Texas' proposed new election districts. The minority groups alleged that the newly drawn districts seek to dilute the growing political clout of Latino voters in Texas.

The minority groups asked the three-judge panel in San Antonio to designate interim election maps to be used in lieu of the state's maps as litigation over redistricting is sorted out in the courts. …