Supreme Court smacks lower courts in TX redistricting case.

Details here and here: the short version is that the USSC decided that a lower court erred because it had, to quote the New York Times, “not paid enough deference to the Legislature’s choices and had improperly substituted its own values for those of elected officials.”  The underlying issue is that there is an ongoing dispute over how the new Texas federal Congressional map should be drawn; Texas got four more seats in the latest round of redistricting, and the beleaguered Democratic minority in Texas has been using Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act as their excuse to tie the entire process up in legalistic knots.  As primaries are, well, looming at this point, the aforementioned lower court (in San Antonio) had put together an interim map that more or less ignored the elected legislature’s wishes in this matter; and the Supreme Court just unanimously smacked them down for it.

This does not mean that the original Texas legislature’s maps will be used; that’s up to the currently Democratic-controlled Justice department, or else an ostensibly impartial three-judge tribunal in DC.  What it does do is reaffirm the principle that lower courts should take into account the original wishes of the legislature in emergency situations – and with an effective deadline of February 1st, this qualifies as an emergency situation – such as these.  In other words, the courts may still create interim maps (which will apply for at least the 2012 election cycle) while the final maps are being resolved; what they can not do is ignore the original wishes of the legislature, to the extent that the San Antonio court did.

At a guess, this ruling puts renewed pressure on the courts to resolve the remaining lawsuits over the original maps; as was mentioned before, there is a fairly serious deadline of February 1st (the primaries have already been pushed back to April).   The 2012 Congressional elections must take place, and Texas is Constitutionally entitled to those four extra seats in the H0use.  And if the existing maps are not cleared, there still remains a need to have something in place that takes into account Texas’ increased representation; and that must be something that can be legitimately seen as taking into account the wishes of the duly-elected state legislature of Texas.

In other words, the clock is ticking.

Moe Lane (crosspost)

10 thoughts on “Supreme Court smacks lower courts in TX redistricting case.”

  1. The courts should remember their proper place? What a novel idea. What the heck, it just might work!

  2. I think the Courts and Justice Department (Republican controlled or not) should keep their filthy noses out of redistricting altogether. A State’s legislature and their governor should be the only ones fighting over said map.

  3. @ Big Gator

    But that would require federal bureaucrats to stop assuming that all Texans and Southerners are not covert racists just aching to reinstate Jim Crow when nobody is looking (and the court to overturn that section of the Voting Rights Act). What’s the likelihood of that ever happening?

  4. But I thought the San Antonio court can still use the map they drew up in the interim. How is this necessarily going to help Republicans? Seems like they could still draw a map that gets 4 new Democrats, which could hurt the Republican chances of keeping the house after the November elections. I still don’t see how this is good news for conservatives.

    1. No, they threw out the San Antonio court’s interim map and told the court that any future interim map should better reflect the legislature’s intent.

  5. Moe – Are you sure about that? I know long-term they have to do that, but in the interim since they have a tight deadline, couldn’t the SA court come back and say they’d have to go with the one they approved (with 4 dems) and in the future, could use a different one? Some of the articles I’ve read on this seem to suggest that the SA court one could still be used for 2012 primaries as long as the court does a better job explaining.

    Do you think Republicans, even if 4 dems get these new districts, could still retain the house?

    1. The Supreme Court will not be amused if the San Antonio court decides to ignore this ruling as per the above scenario you mentioned. And before you ask “And what can the Supreme Court do about it?” the answer is “Declare that Section 5 (and maybe Section 2) of the VRA is unconstitutional.” That would simplify the issue quite nicely, and there are a lot of groups out there who will be happy to give the USSC the opportunity to make that ruling. The bottom line is, if the San Antonio court wants to get a viable interim map in by February 1st – and doesn’t feel like worrying about what Justice Kennedy had for breakfast that day* – they’re going to have to hustle; and the USSC has partially defined ‘viable interim map’ for them. I know a lot of Democrats are whistling past the graveyard on this right now, but I suspect that most of them are hoping that the final version of the maps (which may or may not affect 2012’s election) will be friendlier, but not friendly enough to give the GOP a viable shot at appeal (and killing Section 5).

      One last note: Texas absolutely must have four more Members of Congress in its delegation in January 2013. Article I, section 2. If the VRA or any other law, or any part of those laws, prevents that from happening, then those laws or parts of those laws goes away.


      PS: Taking/retaking the House involves three things for a party: candidates, money, and momentum. Redistricting is more important when it comes to EV calculation, frankly. Besides, the general flow of seats in this redistricting cycle has largely been from Blue to Red states; and oddly enough the states losing seats have been largely had the redistricting process controlled by the GOP.

      *Inside joke. Kennedy’s final positions on issues are often… spontaneous.

  6. Ok Moe – One more question then. Given there are only 10 days till February 1, when the new (interim) map must be developed, how will the court proceed in your opinion? Do you think they’ll give in and just go with what the Legislature put together which favors Republicans or will they draw up a new map in a half-arsed way that would still favor the Dems, knowing full well that because of the time crunch, the Republicans may not fight back due to time constraints?

    BTW, with regards to your comment about candidates, money and momentum, you don’t think the Dems have this to retake the House (with the 26 needed to do so)? I just wonder that because of Congress’s low approval, they could capitalize on that to get what is needed?

    1. I think that they’re going to go with the ‘half-arsed’ option; it’s safe to bet that this administration is going to be hostile to the TX legislature’s original maps. The goal is to figure out how much to gnaw off before the GOP goes to the USSC, where at least one Justice has already indicated that he thinks that Section 5 is unconstitutional.

      As to the House: I’m not going to tell anybody not to fight. The easiest way to lose is to become complaisant. But I will say look at the on-the-ground situation now, as compared to the GOP’s at the same point in the 2010 cycle, and the Democrats’ in 2008 and 2006. We’ve had three wave elections in a row; that doesn’t mean that we can’t have a fourth, but it does mean that a lot of the Congressional deadwood is simply gone at this point.

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