Supreme Court sides with Texas in redistricting map dispute

Since 2011, Texas’ congressional and legislative districting plans have been embroiled in court litigation. Today, it ended when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Lone Star State’s electoral district policy in the cases of Abbot v. Perez (17-586 and 17-626).

By a vote of 5 to 4 the justices upheld Texas’ use of electoral districts, overruling the lower court that had previously struck down the policy arguing it was “racially discriminatory.” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said of their ruling:

“Judges should get out of the business of drawing maps. We firmly believe that the maps Texas used in the last three election cycles are lawful, and we will aggressively defend the maps on all fronts.”

The Supreme Court disagreed with the lower court, arguing that it made a serious legal error.

The justices ruled 5-4 today on a case involving congressional and state legislative district maps, which were approved by the Texas Legislature after they had been first adopted on an interim basis by the lower court.

In the Supreme Court ruling, Justice Samuel Alito said that the lower court made a mistake by striking down two congressional and seven state house districts. For example, one House district in Fort Worth, it argued “relied too heavily on race” when it increased the district’s Latino population to secure the district as a Democratic Party stronghold. The Supreme Court found that HD 90 was an “impermissible racial gerrymander,” which needed to be fixed.

Alito argued, “We now hold that the three-judge court committed a fundamental legal error.”

He pointed out that the lower court ignored evidence showing that the legislature adopted districting plans in 2013 primarily to try to end the litigation over the districts.

Liberal justices dissented; Justice Sonia Sotomayor said her colleagues had blinded themselves “to the overwhelming factual record below. It does all of this to allow Texas to use electoral maps that, in design and effect, burden the rights of minority voters.”

Since 2011, Texas has been fighting over congressional district maps. It’s original maps were tossed out because they were considered “probably unconstitutional.” Then, a three-judge federal court stepped in and created an “interim districting plan” that was used in the 2012 election.  The lower court ordered two congressional districts and statehouse districts in four counties be redrawn in time for the 2018 elections, but the high court blocked that mandate last year. Thus, the issue was resolved by the Supreme Court.

In 2013, Republicans who control the state government, pushed to permanently adopt the maps and use them until new maps are redrawn after the 2020 census. The Legislature approved the maps. Opponents criticized the adopted maps, arguing that they were just a “quick fix,” even though the lower court approved them, before it later disapproved of them.

The primary elections held in March used the existing maps, which opponents of the state wanted changed. The Supreme Court ruled that the maps could stay as is, that the State of Texas was right and the lower court was wrong.

Attorney General Ken Paxton said of the ruling,

“I’m grateful that the U.S. Supreme Court restored the rule of law to the redistricting process. The court rightly recognized that the Constitution protects the right of Texans to draw their own legislative districts and rejected the misguided efforts by unelected federal judges to wrest control of Texas elections from Texas voters. This is a huge win for the Constitution, Texas and the democratic process. Once again, Texans have the power to govern themselves.”

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