Last August a panel of three federal judges ruled that Texas congressional and state house maps needed to be redrawn. The judges ruled the maps discriminate against voters of color. Now the nation’s highest court will hear the case.
The case began in 2011, when voting rights groups asserted that the GOP-drawn districts prevented people of color from obtaining representation of their choice. Courts found the original maps did discriminate, and the Legislature drew new ones. Maps for two congressional districts – the 27th and the 35th – were found to violate the Voting Rights Act, and to be unconstitutional racial gerrymanders. The state has admitted to gerrymandering in favor of Republicans, but denies racial discrimination.
Charles “Rocky” Rhodes, a professor of law at South Texas College of Law in Houston says the case before the Supreme Court is significant because of the earlier finding that racial discrimination was intentional.
“If that finding is upheld by the Supreme Court, that could put Texas back under preclearance, which would essentially again require approval by the federal Department of Justice before we can make any changes to our election system or the boundaries of our districts,” Rhodes says.
Rhodes says that while the Supreme Court has previously disallowed some forms of preclearance, the state could face that penalty for “being a bad actor on repeated occasions by engaging in intentional discrimination, Texas might be placed under preclearance again.”
Rhodes says it’s too early to tell whether the court’s taking the Texas case would affect the 2018 election cycle, especially since a Supreme Court ruling would likely return the case to a lower court.
Written by Shelly Brisbin.