The Supreme Court Friday night blocked a redistricting plan for Texas drawn by a panel of federal judges, putting the justices in the middle of a partisan battle over how the state’s electoral maps should change to recognize the state’s burgeoning minority population.
Texas had objected to the judicially drawn maps, which analysts said would increase chances for Democrats and minorities, and favored maps drawn by the Republican-dominated legislature. Attorney General Greg Abbott (R) requested the Supreme Court’s intervention; the justices will hear arguments Jan. 9.
Candidates already have begun to register to run under the districts drawn by the panel of federal judges in San Antonio, and it appears likely the state’s March primaries now will be delayed.
The plans drawn by the legislature do not have the approval needed by several southern states, including Texas, that are covered by a part of the Voting Rights Act that requires federal “pre-clearance” of any electoral changes that could affect minority political power.
A federal court in Washington, meanwhile, has denied Texas’ initial request for approval, and will hold a trial on claims that the legislature’s plan dilutes minority political power. The Supreme Court’s brief order did not appear to affect that review.
Earlier, the panel of federal judges was charged with drawing new maps so that Texas elections could proceed on time. The qualifying period has already begun.
Abbott called the maps drawn by the panel “judicial activism at its worst.”
The maps created new districts for the Texas legislature and congressional districts reflective of the state’s enormous population growth over the past decade.
Texas’ population grew 21 percent over the past decade, to more than 25 million, and as a result the state was allocated four more congressional seats. In that time, the state’s Hispanic population grew by 2.8 million, compared with population growth of 522,570 for African Americans and less than 465,000 for whites.
The plans drawn earlier by the Texas legislature were challenged by minority voters and advocacy groups. They said that, despite the change in the state’s demographics, the maps gave minorities no greater chance of electing their candidates of choice.
The panel of federal judges in San Antonio said it had no choice but to draw new maps that were independent of the legislative efforts.
The state’s current districts, because of the enormous population growth, violate the Constitution’s standard of one-person, one-vote, the panel said. Additionally, it said it could not use the new maps drawn by the legislature because they had not received the required pre-clearance.
That decision split the panel 2 –1, with dissenting Judge Jerry Smith of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit calling the actions of his fellow jurists “unseemly at best and downright alarming at worst.”\