Supreme Court takes up fight over Texas electoral districts


The Texas redistricting cases are appeals from a 107-page ruling of a three-judge district court panel from this past August.

The court emphasized, however, that "this interim map is not a final ruling on the merits of any claims asserted by the Plaintiffs in this case or any of the other cases consolidated with this case".

Even so, Gilberto Hinojosa, chairman of the state Democratic Party, praised the Supreme Court's action, saying it shined a light on a Republican "pattern of discriminating against Texans of color".

In ruling against the maps a year ago, a three-judge panel in San Antonio sided with the voting and minority rights groups who accused Republican lawmakers of discriminating against voters of color, who tend to vote for Democrats, in drawing the maps. Both of those cases involved charges of partisan gerrymandering. The map is invalid because it resulted from a partisan gerrymandering, giving Republican candidates virtual assurances that they would win 10 of the state's 13 House seats.

For Heitkamp, the court battle has been 27 years in the making.

None of the affected House districts are in Bexar County, but several are in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. In some cases, the judges found that lawmakers intentionally undercut minority voting power "to ensure Anglo control" of legislative districts. A total of 36 states and the District of Columbia had asked the high court to revisit the issue. They argued that "the right to legal districts prevails" when choosing between delaying electoral deadlines and addressing "voters' ongoing harm" under the current maps.

In 2010, the state legislature made a decision to act.

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A three-judge district court panel ruled past year that some national and state districts were drawn to discriminate against blacks and Hispanics, but it refused to call them political gerrymanders.

The high court action is the latest in a long saga over the state's congressional and statehouse maps, and Texas officials said the timing could inject chaos into the November 6 elections. Rafael Anchia, a Democrat and chairman of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, which is a plaintiff in the case.

"The lower court's decisions to invalidate parts of the maps it drew and adopted are inexplicable and indefensible", Paxton said.

And earlier this week, a federal court panel as politically tainted, sending that case headed toward the high court as well. Then, to help boost their chances, lawyers for the state helped to solicit 15 "friend of the court" briefs from retailers, states, economists and others even before the justices chose to hear the case. A ruling in that case is pending.

The dispute over the Texas maps focuses on racial discrimination and is separate from the high court's ongoing consideration of excessive partisanship in redistricting in Maryland and Wisconsin.

Hanging over the Texas case is the possibility that the state will be placed back under federal oversight of its elections laws. This comes after years of controversy and litigation surrounding the district maps, which were first legally challenged in 2011 after the Texas Legislature drafted new state and congressional districts to keep up with the state's quickly expanding population. "Issues include violations of the Voting Rights Act, findings of unconstitutional racial gerrymandering, and a finding that Texas acted with racially discriminatory intent".

The Supreme Court has ruled on multiple occasions that race can not be a major factor in the way lines are drawn, but it has yet to set a standard for how much politics is too much.