Texas Redistricting Goes Before The Supreme Court


Cindy Casares Portrait

Monday the U.S. Supreme Court took a look at the Texas Legislature’s newly drawn redistricting maps to try to make sense of just how constitutional the maps are, and whether a San Antonio federal court’s redraw is a better fix. Unfortunately, we are no nearer a decision than we were last week.

The case has taken the national spotlight because it contains within it the question of whether a section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act is constitutional. Section 2 prohibits electoral practices that discriminate against minority groups, but it’s Section 5, which applies to Texas and a handful of other states that have historically discriminated against minorities, that has critics up in arms. Section 5 dictates that any changes to voting procedure, like redistricting, must be approved before being legally implemented. It’s called pre-clearance and can be accomplished through administrative review by the Justice Department or trial before the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. If you recall from my previous analysis, Republicans opted to go before the court so it would reach the SCOTUS and they would set a legal precedent against Section 5.

When Texas earned itself four new seats in the U.S. House of Representatives— thanks in major part to the growth of the Latino population reflected in the 2010 U.S. Census— Democrats and Latinos were annoyed if not surprised to find that Republicans managed to redraw maps with appendages so outrageous, they diluted minority districts into Anglo ones.

Now Supreme Court justices are faced with a very tight deadline to try and sort out the situation if Texas is to hold its primary elections. Essentially, they’d need to decide on a set of maps by February 1 so that precincts could be drawn and overseas voter ballots mailed. Though none of the judges during oral arguments Monday seemed to think that the Republicans’ newly drawn maps are quite right, they seem to agree even less that the federal court in San Antonio should have redrawn them with such an emphasis on what Democrats wanted.

With so many questions at stake—the constitutionality of the maps, the constitutionality of the new maps and the constitutionality of Section 5—and because the case reached the SCOTUS as a stay application which requires no specific statement of issues, legal experts aren’t even sure how broadly the court will rule.

If the deadline isn’t reached in time, the state may be forced to hold two primary elections—one in April for races that do not involve districts, and another vote later for Congress and the Legislature.