Supreme Court Rejects Texas Redistricting

The Supreme Court today rejected the election maps drawn by a lower court in Texas.  The state is gaining four House seats due to population growth measured in the last census, so it was necessary to redraw the districts.  This is a task for the state legislature, which happens to be run by Republicans at the moment.  Their map was approved by Governor Rick Perry before he set forth on his ill-fated presidential campaign.

However, three judges in a federal court decided that the new map didn’t give enough voting power to Hispanics, who constituted 65 percent of the population growth since the 2000 census.  Only one of the new districts was heavily Hispanic, according to a Reuters report.  Texas is one of the states covered by the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and therefore eternally presumed guilty of racism.  The judges drew up some new maps while various challenges to the Legislature’s work were still pending.  Time was of the essence, as the Texas primaries are coming up on April 3.

The new electoral map was quite a bit different from what the Legislature and Governor Perry approved.  Among other things, it was noticed that the judges’ revision was much more favorable to Democrats.  The Supreme Court ruled that the lower-court judges had to try again, and this time produce something much closer to what the legislature produced, showing more respect for “the state’s policy judgments on where to place new districts and how to shift existing ones in response to massive population growth,” as the unsigned Supreme Court decision put it. 

Basically, the ruling says the Voting Rights Act doesn’t give federal courts the power to completely discard a legislatively-drawn electoral map they find unsuitable.  They have to make more minimal revisions, “guided” by the state plan. 

Interestingly, the New York Times notes that “Justice Clarence Thomas concurred only in the result and said he would have instructed the elections to proceed under the Legislature’s maps.”  He went on to say that he finds Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act “unconstitutional.”

This was hailed as a victory for the government of Texas, and perhaps other state governments who run aground on the Voting Rights Act during redistricting:

“This is a big win for Texas, and will require the drawing of districts much more likely to favor Texas’s interim plan,” Richard L. Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California, Irvine, said in an e-mail. The new maps, Professor Hasen said, would “favor Republicans over Democrats” as compared with the lower court’s original maps.

Much of the language in the Supreme Court’s opinion was conditional, and its criticism of the lower court was mostly indirect.

“To the extent the district court exceeded its mission to draw interim maps that do not violate the Constitution or the Voting Rights Act, and substituted its own concept of ‘the collective public good’ for the Texas Legislature’s determination of which policies serve ‘the interests of the citizens of Texas,’ the court erred,” the opinion said, quoting from the lower court’s ruling.

It’s always refreshing to see a state win a tussle with the federal government.  This will be good news for Governor Perry, a champion of states’ rights, when he gets home from the presidential campaign trail.