The Supreme Court on Monday upheld Texas’s congressional map and most of its state House district map, rejecting claims that they were intentional and illegal racial gerrymanders.
The decision did find one state House district outside of Dallas was impermissibly drawn to distort minority voting power, but upheld the rest of the map as legal, delivering a win to the state’s GOP-led government.
“The court rightly recognized that the Constitution protects the right of Texans to draw their own legislative districts, and rejected the misguided efforts by unelected federal judges to wrest control of Texas elections from Texas voters,” said Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.
The 5-4 ruling is the latest in a long-running battle over how the state divided up its legislative districts following the 2010 census.
A lower court had ruled that the state’s original map was infused with discriminatory intent, and the court issued its own maps. Texas then worked from those maps in a 2013 redraw, but the court stepped in again and said the latest version was still tainted.
In its ruling Monday the Supreme Court rejected those findings and said the lower court got the case backwards by putting the onus on Texas to explain itself, rather than on the voters who said they were wronged.
“Instead of holding the plaintiffs to their burden of overcoming the presumption of good faith and proving discriminatory intent, it reversed the burden of proof,” Justice Samuel A. Alito wrote for the majority.
Justice Alito said the groups that sued to overturn the maps weren’t able to show that alternate maps would have been any better for the minority groups that objected.
In a dissent authored by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the court’s Democrat-appointed members said the Supreme Court should have stayed out of the case and let the lower court ruling stand. She said the Supreme Court lacked jurisdiction.
“This disregard of both precedent and fact comes at serious costs to our democracy,” Justice Sotomayor wrote. “It means that, after years of litigation and undeniable proof of intentional discrimination, minority voters in Texas — despite constituting a majority of the population within the State — will continue to be underrepresented in the political process.”
Texas will have to redraw one district near Dallas, House District 90, after the high court ruled the state legislature made too many changes in the 2013 map based on racial considerations.
Texas had argued it was trying to navigate completing pressures from minority groups, and had to pay attention to race.
The Supreme Court, though, said they didn’t meet the burden of proof for establishing there was no other alternative other than to focus on race in drawing the lines for HD90.
Nina Perales, vice president of litigation for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which represented individual plaintiffs in the case, said the ruling against HD90 serves as a “strong warning to Texas.”
“Like all other voters, Latinos have the right to live in election districts whose lines are not infected by the use of race for political ends,” Ms. Perales said.
The high court on Monday also erased a lower court ruling that had invalidated North Carolina’s congressional map over concerns about partisan gerrymandering.
While racial gerrymandering is illegal, the high court has yet to set a standard on partisan gerrymandering.
But the justices ordered a do-over in light of another Supreme Court ruling weeks ago that ordered a court in Wisconsin to take a do-over on a similar partisan gerrymander case.
In the Wisconsin decision the Supreme Court sidestepped big questions about the constitutionality of extreme partisan gerrymandering and instead said the plaintiffs didn’t show they were personally affected by the maps.
Common Cause, the group that challenged the North Carolina map on behalf of state voters, said it was disappointed in the high court’s refusal to decide the case now and also criticized the Supreme Court’s move with the Texas map, as the organization had also filed a brief in that case.
“In America elections are supposed to represent the will of the people — not politicians,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, president of Common Cause, who called on activists to advocate for non-partisan redistricting in each state following the high court’s decisions.
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