The Austin Chronicle

SCOTUS Takes Up Texas Gerrymandering

Doggett, Farenthold’s districts to be questioned

By Mary Tuma, January 19, 2018, News

The U.S. Supreme Court will write what should be the final chapter in Texas' ongoing redistricting case. On Friday, SCOTUS agreed to review a lower-court ruling that challenged Texas House and congressional maps as purposely discriminatory against black and Latino voters.

The racially gerrymandered Republican-drawn maps have been the subject of several court battles over the past six years, each waged by minority and voting rights groups. The original maps, drawn in 2011, were found to have "intentionally diluted minority voting strength in order to gain partisan advantage." New maps adopted by the Texas Legislat­ure in 2013 were found to harbor most of the same constitutional violations. Not only did the federal courts find that legislators discriminated with their new maps, but they did so deliberately, a damning admonishment. Last September, at the behest of state attorneys, SCOTUS blocked a federal three-judge panel's order to redraw the troublesome maps ahead of the 2018 election. The panel had invalidated nine (largely Dallas-area) state House districts and two of the state's 36 con­gress­ional districts, including CD-35, currently occupied by Austin Democrat Lloyd Doggett.

Observers expect SCOTUS to hear the case, titled Abbott v. Perez, sometime this spring, and rule by June, when the court's term ends. If the court forces Texas to redraw the maps, that could mean a possible shake-up for the oncoming general election in November. The ruling could carry other serious implications, including the possibility of Texas being forced to secure a nod from the feds before making any changes to its voting laws (known as federal "preclearance"). Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hino­josa applauded the decision, saying it "again shines light on Greg Abbott and Texas Repub­licans' pattern of discriminating against Texans of color." (On Tuesday, SCOTUS dismissed the TDP's related partisan gerrymander claim, based on jurisdiction.)

Representing the suit's plaintiffs, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund welcomed closure from SCOTUS and guidance for the next round of redistricting (in 2021), when "Latinos will once more account for increased congressional representation in Texas and other states." MALDEF Litigation VP Nina Perales called the decision a "mixed result."

"Although we would have preferred the Supreme Court to let the cases proceed below to a remedy," she said, a reference to SCOTUS blocking the panel's September ruling, "we are heartened by the decision ... to leave open the question of its jurisdiction."

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