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U.S. Supreme Court

U.S. Supreme Court Overturns Judge-Drawn Legislative Maps in Texas

Posted Jan 20, 2012 10:44 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Acting just 11 days after oral arguments, the U.S. Supreme Court has overturned legislative district maps drawn by a federal court in Texas.

The unanimous opinion said the court’s interim maps were drawn without proper deference to legislators who drew their own map, according to the New York Times Caucus blog and SCOTUSblog. The per curiam opinion instructs the lower court to use maps drawn by the state legislature as a “starting point.”

The justices acted in advance of a Feb. 1 deadline for creation of new maps for the election of Texas state lawmakers and members of the U.S. House of Representatives, the stories say. According to the Times, the legislative maps appear to favor Republicans, while the judge-drawn maps increase Hispanic voting power and appear to favor Democrats.

Texas is a “covered jurisdiction” under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, and it is required to get “preclearance" for redrawn legislative maps to show they won’t discriminate against voters based on race.

The Supreme Court acted on a constitutional challenge to the Texas maps filed while the Section 5 preclearance was pending. A federal court in Texas drew the interim map when it became clear the preclearance would not be completed in time for elections.

“To avoid being compelled to make such otherwise standardless decisions, a district court should take guidance from the state’s recently enacted plan in drafting an interim plan,” the Supreme Court opinion said. "Section 5 prevents a state plan from being implemented if it has not been precleared. But that does not mean that the plan is of no account or that the policy judgments it reflects can be disregarded by a district court drawing an interim plan. On the contrary, the state plan serves as a starting point for the district court.”

In a concurrence, Justice Clarence Thomas said he believes the Texas legislature’s district maps should have been implemented because Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional.

The court acted in three cases. Two are captioned Perry v. Perez and the third is Perry v. Davis.

Prior coverage:

ABAJournal.com: "Chemerinsky on 3 Texas Election Cases with Potential for ‘Enormous’ Consequences"

ABAJournal.com: "Supreme Court to Hear Texas Redistricting Case; Outcome Could Affect US House Control"

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