The US Supreme Court Hears Arguments On Texas' Redistricting Maps

Credit National Atlas  Wikimedia Commons

Credit National Atlas Wikimedia Commons

This time it's Texas, and the Court will listen to claims that the state government created district voting maps illegally harming black and Hispanic voters. In the years since, the lawsuit against the maps, led by the legislature's Mexican American Legislative Caucus, bounced around among the courts before the same San Antonio federal court that invalidated the maps in 2012 again found them unconstitutional last year.

So after all these years, it's not surprising many Texans feel like Lelena Fisher, a graphic designer from Austin.

But Justice Stephen Breyer noted, "The Texas legislation is not insane, it knows how to redistrict ..."

The district court in San Antonio then ruled against the use of those maps, a decision appealed by the state of Texas.

To understand where we're headed, let's look at where we've been. The Texas State legislature was in charge of drawing new district lines for the state. He said the Legislature was acting in good faith to resolve the litigation by adopting a map it believed the court would surely approve.

Solicitor General Keller argued this morning that it would be absurd to hold that a court could find its own map tainted by racially discriminatory intent.

The attorneys defending the plan relied heavily on the argument that the legislature is presumed to be acting in good faith when redistricting and that the district court held "extensive proceedings" when redrawing the 2011 plan.

After a lower court ruled in their favor, the State fought back. He says what Texas is doing is illegal.

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Keller and Kneedler both also faced questions about why Texas took the case to the Supreme Court before the lower court had even issued an injunction.

"In 2012, a 9-0 U.S. Supreme Court ordered the U.S. District Court in San Antonio to draw interim maps 'that do not violate the Constitution or the Voting Rights Act.' The Supreme Court repeated that command to draw lawful maps six times in its opinion".

"The Texas case of gerrymandering is a flawless example of why politicians should no longer be allowed to draw political maps", said U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, a San Antonio Democrat who supports the redistricting challenge.

If it does take the case, the court can itself order redistricting and measures to counter other alleged discriminatory practices, or it can side with the state in saying that the 2013 provisional plan fixed the problem. "Gerrymandering is probably the most powerful tool in the kit of voter disenfranchisement". A decision from the high court is expected this summer. Some reformers have pressed for bipartisan or independent commissions to redraw their states political boundaries. The Supreme Court, at Texas' request, constrained just how much of the map the district court could redraw.

While the high court reviews the district boundaries, Gov. Greg Abbott has sought emergency powers for an expedited special election in the Republican-leaning district.

And the stakes are high, too, since the case involves whether Republican redistricting in Texas was motivated by racial discrimination or pure politics. He asked one of the attorneys arguing for the challengers whether after the district court's ruling the legislature could still use the plan for the 2018 elections. "It seems to me, the piece of paper says, 'Come to court.' Now if we're going to call that a grant of injunction, we're going to hear 50,000 appeals from the 93 - however many three-judge courts there are". Texas was, in effect, appealing the district court's request that it show up in court with proposals to fix its maps. Justice Kagan asked if that would still be an issue if the court had given Texas three weeks.

No matter what the justices decide, Garza said, "the door is closing pretty fast".