Bloomberg News

Texas Republicans Get U.S. High Court Hearing on Election Maps

December 13, 2011

Dec. 10 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Supreme Court will hear an emergency challenge by Texas Republicans to maps that would govern next year’s state and federal elections, accepting a case that tests the power of judges to redraw voting-district lines.

Temporarily blocking a lower court order that put the maps in place, the court said last night it will hear the case on an expedited basis, with arguments on Jan. 9.

A panel of federal judges in San Antonio created the interim maps last month, voting 2-1 to put them in place for 2012 because of legal uncertainty over the districts created by the state legislature after the decennial census. Texas has yet to secure approval for those election districts from either the Justice Department or a federal court, as required by the U.S. Voting Rights Act.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott contends the panel overstepped its bounds and should have put in place interim maps that hewed more closely to the legislature’s plan.

“Even once a decade is too frequent for states to sacrifice their sovereignty in this way or for courts to be put in the untenable position of drawing political lines from scratch,” Abbott argued in court papers.

“The Supreme Court’s decision today is an important step” toward “protecting the integrity of Texas’s elections,” Abbott said in a statement after the high court agreed to hear the case. The state “will work to resolve this matter as quickly as possible.”

Gaining Four Seats

Texas gained four congressional seats after the 2010 census showed the state added almost 4.3 million new residents. Hispanics accounted for about 65 percent of that increase, according to the census.

The case might affect Democratic prospects to retake control of the House of Representatives. Republicans now control the chamber 242-192, with one vacancy.

Minority groups are challenging the Republican-drawn maps as violating the Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution. The challengers say the state dawdled on redistricting, failing to enact a plan until July and then seeking the required “preclearance” from a three-judge panel in Washington rather than taking a faster route by filing with the Justice Department.

“After dragging its feet on the congressional redistricting and preclearance process, the state’s last-minute request for judicial extrication from its own failed strategies must be rejected,” the challengers had argued.

Welcoming the Opportunity

After the court agreed to hear the case, Trey Martinez Fischer, chairman of the Texas Legislature’s Mexican American Legislative Caucus, said in a statement the minority groups welcomed the opportunity to argue against Texas’s position.

“Our resolve remains stronger than ever and our commitment to minority voting rights unwavering,” Fischer said. “We look forward to making our case before the United States Supreme Court.”

Jurisdictions with a history of voting rights violations must obtain preclearance before changing their district lines or election procedures. That requirement covers all or parts of 16 states.

Latino voting rights activists and the Justice Department say Texas lawmakers created racially gerrymandered districts to prevent the election of Hispanics, who more often vote for Democrats. Texas says that while its proposed maps may favor the state’s Republican majority, they don’t discriminate against Hispanics.

The Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts questioned the constitutionality of the preclearance requirement in a 2009 ruling that narrowed the provision’s scope.

The cases are Perry v. Perez, 11A520 (state house map); Perry v. Perez, 11A521 (state senate map); Perry v. Perez (Congressional map), 11A536.

--With assistance from Laurel Brubaker Calkins in Houston. Editors: Jim Rubin, Fred Strasser.

To contact the reporter on this story: Greg Stohr in Washington at gstohr@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at msilva34@bloomberg.net.


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