Three Important Takeaways From Texas' Big Day at the Supreme Court

by Abel Hampton April 26, 2018, 0:41
Three Important Takeaways From Texas' Big Day at the Supreme Court

Before Texas Solicitor General Scott Keller could make it through his preamble, he was interrupted by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who questioned whether the Supreme Court should be hearing the case because the lower court hasn't issued an injunction finally stopping the state from using its current districts.

The lower court judges ruled the maps were only supposed to be temporary.

The lower court found that the configuration of two U.S. House districts violated the Voting Rights Act, a 1965 law that protects minority voters and was enacted to address a history of racial discrimination in voting, especially in Southern states.

"You have instances where the courts have said this is some intentional discrimination or there's unconstitutional gerrymandering", Rodriguez said in an interview on "State of Texas". When it did so, the district court emphasized that "this interim map is a result of preliminary determinations" and "is not a final ruling on the merits of any claims".

But the 2012 election was just around the corner, so a federal court implemented its own interim maps.

The case is the latest in which the justices are pondering a practice known as gerrymandering in which electoral districts in states are drawn in a way that amplifies the power of certain voters - in this case white voters - at the expense of others. But in Abbott v. Perez, a group of Latino and African-American voters argued that when Texas redrew its congressional and legislative districts, it intentionally diluted Latino and African-American voting strength by drawing district lines to divide or avoid the communities.

The case dates back to 2011, when Texas's legislature, controlled by Republicans, first redrew maps in an effort to help the party.

How the the case got to the Supreme Court is extremely convoluted, even when compared to how convoluted redistricting cases typically are.

"The work of the district courts has yet to be completed", said MALC attorney Jose Garza. It had planned to hold a hearing on remedial plans in September, until Texas sought the intervention of the Supreme Court, prompting Tuesday's hearing. Texas' Republican legislature, in turn, adopted the interim map statutorily in 2013.

"If this is not a basis on which a legislature can rely on a federal court's opinion, I'm not sure there's any breathing space left for the legislatures engaging in redistricting to honor both their constitutional and VRA obligations", Keller said. The litigation, however, continued, and the San Antonio court handed down decisions in 2017 finding that both the 2011 map and the 2013 map were illegal. Some legal analysts say that if Texas prevails in its appeal from the lower court proceedings, it could either slow or short-circuit them altogether, protecting the current maps through the 2020 elections.

One of the congressional districts under challenge in Texas is District 27, which was recently vacated by Corpus Christi Republican Blake Farenthold, who resigned amid a flurry of sexual harassment allegations.

The position of the court's frequent swing vote, conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy, was unclear, as he said little during the arguments. If the plaintiffs win on the merits, the district court will begin the process of redrawing two congressional districts and nine state house districts the court has ruled unconstitutional.

In that case, any new maps imposed at the lower court level could be appealed anew to the high court.

It doesn't matter that Texas wanted to end the litigation, Riggs said.

But the Supreme Court wiped clean the list in 2013, noting that conditions for voters of color had "dramatically improved".

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