Supreme Court takes up Texas redistricting case

Chase Karacostas

In a 5–4 decision Tuesday night, U.S. Supreme Court ruled to block two lower court rulings to redraw several Texas legislative districts while it considers an appeal from Attorney General Ken Paxton.  

In a statement released Tuesday night, Paxton said Texas should use the maps adopted in 2012 by the same San Antonio court that recently declared them unconstitutional.

“In 2012 the Supreme Court ordered the district court to adopt lawful maps, and we believe it did so,” Paxton said in the statement. “We are eager to proceed with this case in the high court.” 

The redistricting lawsuit was first filed in 2011 by the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, MALC, and several other minority voting rights groups following the implementation of new electoral maps based on the 2010 census. They claimed the districts were drawn with the intent to discriminate against minority voting groups, especially Latino and African-American voters.  

“As a Texas voter, (the six-year battle) makes me sad or concerned because the only way that this process works is if we have fair and equal democracy,” said Mary Gonzalez, MALC member and a plaintiff in the case. “While I’m not happy that we’re not going to address the remedy sooner rather than later, I am that glad that there is still a fight to fight.”

The San Antonio court redrew the maps in 2012 following an U.S. Supreme Court order, and the state legislature ratified them with small changes in 2013. However, MALC and others sued again that year, claiming the new maps were still discriminatory.

A panel of San Antonio federal judges ruled on Aug. 15 of this year that Congressional District 35, Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, and CD 27, Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi, were unconstitutional and must be redrawn. On Aug. 18, Paxton filed a motion to stay the ruling and appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. He also revealed the state had no intention of calling a second special session to alter the districts.

On Aug. 24, the court also ruled nine state house districts unconstitutional, requiring them to be redrawn prior to the 2018 election cycle. The parties were then scheduled to meet in early September to amend both maps. 

Four days later, Samuel Alito, U.S. Supreme Court justice, put the redistricting efforts on hold to allow processing of Paxton’s appeal. 

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court officially took up the case and stayed both rulings regarding the congressional and state house maps. A date has not been set for the Court’s decision on Paxton’s appeal. 

Moving forward, conservative campaign consultant Matthew Mackowiak said the Court has three options. It could rule on the case before the Oct. 1 deadline given by local election administrators and possibly redraw the maps. The next option is to rule later and potentially delay the March primary. Finally, the Court could leave the current maps in place for 2018 and make a ruling for the 2020 election cycle.

Mackowiak said redrawing the maps now would disrupt the 2018 election cycle because most candidates have already started preparing. If either decision changes the 2018 electoral maps, candidates could need to change their campaign strategies to adjust for the overhauled districts.

“The best outcome would be to keep the current map in place for the 2018 cycle and hear arguments and make a decision in the spring,” Mackowiak said. “That would give them … time to do it thoughtfully.”

Government professor Daron Shaw said it’s likely the current maps will remain unchanged. He also said the Court is unlikely to leave the 2018 maps in place and then change them for 2020 because it would lead to new electoral maps for two election cycles in a row due to redistricting for 2022 following the 2020 census.

“The Supreme Court is very sensitive to states’ rights,” Shaw said. “They are likely to be very interested in the claim that Texas has raised that there’s not enough time to do a redraw. … (Redistricting) places sort of an undue burden for no great effect.”