Supreme Court Tosses District Judges' Redistricting Maps, Says Texas Needs a Do-Over

Back in November U.S. District Judges Orlando Garcia and Xavier Rodriguez down in San Antonio drew up new congressional and state House and Senate maps, since they so hated the ones submitted by the Texas Legislature. The judges claimed the state willfully ignored the state's growing Hispanic population, and their new map created Congressional District 33, which MALDEF quite liked, saying the DFW newcomer "contains a plurality of Latino population and is likely to grow into a Latino opportunity district over the next decade." To which Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said: Um, no. The U.S. Supreme Court agrees, kind of.

Moments ago the Supremes handed down this 13-page ruling that sends the mapmakers back to the lower courts, saying the district judges had no good reason for doing that they done. And they point to District 33 as their chief example:

The court's order suggests that it may have intentionally drawn District 33 as a "minority coalition opportunity district" in which the court expected two different minoritygroups to band together to form an electoral majority. The order is somewhat ambiguous on this point -- some portions suggest that the court deliberately designed such a district, other parts suggest that it drew the district solely as a response to population growth in the area. Compare id., at 146-147 ("Because much of the growth that occurred in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex was attributable to minorities, the new district 33 was drawn as a minority coalition opportunity district"), with id., at 144 ("The Court has nowhere expressly sought toincrease the performance of any opportunity district above benchmark"). If the District Court did set out to create a minority coalition district, rather than drawing a district that simply reflected population growth, it had no basis for doing so.
The ruling doesn't demand the state use the originally submitted maps. But Clarence Thomas would have: In a separate opinion attached to this morning's doc, he writes that "although Texas' new plans are being chalenged on the grounds that they violate the Federal Constitution and §2 of the Voting Rights Act, they have not yet been found to violate any law."

Update at 10:47 a.m.: Abbott's office just dispatched a statement from the Texas AG, which is below.

U.S. Supreme Court Says Federal District Court Erred in their Drawing of Interim Redistricting Plans for Texas

Statement from Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott

The Supreme Court confirmed that the San Antonio court drew illegal maps, without regard for the policy decisions of elected leaders. As the Justices point out, courts are ill-suited to make policy judgments and redistricting is primarily the responsibility of the State. The Court made clear in a strongly worded opinion that the district court must give deference to elected leaders of this state, and it's clear by the Supreme Court ruling that the district court abandoned these guiding principles.

The Supreme Court's swift decision will allow Texas to move forward with elections as soon as possible, under maps that are lawful.

The following are excepts from the U.S. Supreme Court Per Curiam opinion in the State's redistricting case:

Because the District Court here had the benefit of a recently enacted plan to assist it, the court had neither the need nor the license to cast aside that vital aid.

To the extent the District Court exceeded its mission to draw interim maps that do not violate the Constitution or the Voting Rights Act, and substituted its own concept of "the collective public good" for the Texas Legislature's determination of which policies serve "the interests of the citizens of Texas," the court erred.

..the state plan serves as a starting point for the district court. It provides important guidance that helps ensure that the district court appropriately confines itself to drawing interim maps that comply with the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act, without displacing legitimate state policy judgments with the court's own preferences.

To avoid being compelled to make such otherwise standardless decisions, a district court should take guidance from the State's recently enacted plan in drafting an interim plan. That plan reflects the State's policy judgments on where to place new districts and how to shift existing ones in response to massive population growth.

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky