BREAKING: U.S. Supreme Court rules on gerrymandering
Texas will not be placed back under electoral supervision and state and congressional district maps will not have to be redrawn. The U.S. Supreme Court voted 5-4 to throw out two lower court rulings that found lawmakers intentionally drew district lines to weaken the voting power of minorities in the state.
The lower court ruling specifically pointed to three districts in Nueces County:
• Congressional District 27, which, for the moment, has no representative;
• House District 32, held by State Rep. Todd Hunter (R-Corpus Christi);
• and House District 34, held by Abel Herrero (D-Robstown).
The evidence was “plainly insufficient” to prove the 2013 Texas Legislature acted in “bad faith,” and the lower court ruling was “reverse and remanded” in an opinion by Justice Samuel Alito on Monday, June 25.
“The district court disregarded the presumption of legislative good faith and improperly reversed the burden of proof when it required the state to show a lack of discriminatory intent in adopting new districting plans,” reads the court’s holding.
The opinion goes on to state that “the three-judge court committed a fundamental legal error.”
Alito, who wrote the court’s opinion, placed the burden of proof on the challengers, who had first accepted a 2013 redistricting map based on a previous lawsuit then filed against the new map as well.
The nation’s highest court did make one exception in its ruling, flagging Texas House District 90 in Fort Worth as a problem. Currently, the seat is held by Rep. Ramon Romero (D-Fort Worth). The court found the district has been racially gerrymandered, saying lawmakers illegally took race into consideration when drawing district lines.
The Supreme Court first got involved in August 2017 when Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton appealed the two rulings by the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas in San Antonio. That court ruled the Texas Legislature drew its current election map with the “intention of discriminating against minorities,” violating the U.S. Constitution and the federal Voting Rights Act. The map was drawn in 2013 based on 2010 census numbers.
Justice Alito, who handles emergency appeals to the Supreme Court from the region that includes Texas, stayed the rulings.
Greg Abbott, Governor of Texas, et.al, Applicants vs. Shannon Perez, et.al. was argued before the Supreme Court on April 24. It arrived before the nine justices after seven years of working its way through the system.
Here’s how it all got started.
The 2010 census granted Texas four additional congressional seats — the most of any other state in the nation. Ninety percent of that came from an increase in the Latino and African-American populations. When the new election maps were drawn, however, those new Texans were not equally represented, charged opponents. The map was drawn by the Texas Legislature, which had (and still has) a majority of Republicans in both the House and the Senate.
Lawsuits filled challenged the map and Republican lawmakers’ intentions. Opponents charged Republicans with intentionally diluting minority voting strength and failing to create majority-minority districts required by Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. They asked courts to give them new maps and to put Texas back under federal scrutiny for future election law changes as per Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act.
Section 3 mandates that any state proven to intentionally discriminate against minority voters must get permission from the U.S. government to enact new election laws. Texas had been under federal scrutiny until 2013, when it and nine other states were relieved of the burden from another Supreme Court ruling. In Shelby County v. Holder, the court declared it unconstitutional to use prior bad acts to determine Section 5 status in the Voting Rights Act. The burden was instead put on judges to decide whether a state deserves oversight based on new rulings of discrimination.
New maps will be drawn after the 2020 census, most likely by the 2021 state legislature.
Voting to overturn the lower court’s ruling were Supreme Court Justices Alito, Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Anthony Kennedy, and Chief Justice John Roberts.
Dissenting were Justices Sonya Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Beyer, and Elena Kagan.
This is not the end of the ordeal, however. The court sent District 90 back to the lower court “to consider what if any remedy is appropriate at this time.”
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