Saying federal judges in Texas exceeded their authority in
rejecting election districts drawn by the Republican-controlled
Legislature, the Supreme Court instructed the judges to find
remedies closer to the state's maps.
Federal judges hearing a lawsuit over election redistricting in
Texas exceeded their authority when they jettisoned maps that had
been approved by the state Legislature and replaced them with maps
of their own.
In an unsigned unanimous opinion on Friday, the US Supreme Court
said a three-judge panel in San Antonio should have deferred to
legislatively-drawn maps whenever possible and only departed from
the enacted maps when necessary to avoid a likely violation of the
Voting Rights Act or the Constitution.
The dispute is significant because how election maps are drawn
can impact who is elected and which political party prevails. With
four new congressional districts in Texas, those and other newly
drawn could play a key role in which party controls Congress next
The Republican-controlled Legislature's maps were challenged by
minority rights advocates and others who said they were drawn so as
to minimize the likelihood of minority candidates being elected.
The high court said the federal judges in Texas were wrong to
award themselves the power to draft new election districts and to
base their effort on their own conception of what is best for Texas
Setting the boundaries for congressional and other districts is a
political task best left, as much as possible, to elected political
leaders, the court said.
"To the extend the District Court exceeded its mission to draw
interim maps that do not violate the Constitution or the Voting
Rights Act, and substituted its own concept of 'the collective
public good' for the Texas Legislature's determination of which
policies serve 'the interests of the citizens of Texas,' the court
erred," the justices wrote.
"Because the District Court here had the benefit of a recently
enacted plan to assist it, the court had neither the need nor the
license to cast aside that vital aid," the justices said.
The Supreme Court action returns the case to the three-judge
panel in San Antonio with instructions to defer as much as possible
to each legislatively-drawn district and fashion a new interim map
only in those cases that are necessary to avoid likely violations.
The justices agreed to hear the consolidated appeals, Perry v.
Perez (11-713, 11-714, 11-715), last month on an expedited basis
with Texas' scheduled April 3 primary fast approaching. They heard
oral argument on Jan. 9.
In acknowledgment of the mounting legal morass, Texas postponed
its planned March 6 primary for a month until early April. But even
that date may not stand given the on-going litigation.
The Supreme Court appeal arose in the context of two different
legal challenges related to the new election districts, which were
adopted by the Republican-controlled Legislature in Austin last
New congressional districts must be drawn at least once every ten
years to reflect population changes recorded in the census. Texas
gained 4.3 million new residents since the 2000 census and thus
qualifies for four additional seats in Congress, increasing the
Texas congressional delegation from 32 to 36 seats. …