Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Texas Gets U.S. Supreme Court Review on Voided Voting Districts

The U.S. Supreme Court will weigh putting new curbs on voting-discrimination lawsuits, agreeing to hear Texas’s defense of Republican-drawn election district lines that a lower court said were the product of intentional racial discrimination.

Adding a new chapter to a long-running legal saga, the justices said they will consider the state’s appeals over its congressional and state legislative voting maps. 

A three-judge panel had ordered nine state legislative districts and two congressional districts rewritten, saying lawmakers violated the Constitution and the U.S. Voting Rights Act by intentionally diluting the clout of Hispanic and black voters.

Texas officials say the disputed districts, enacted in 2013, were identical to ones the lower court had put in place the year before on an interim basis. The legislature "could not possibly have acted with an unlawful purpose" when it adopted lines that court previously approved, Texas argued.

The minority groups opposing the lines say the interim maps weren’t designed to resolve every legal issue and were based on discriminatory lines Texas drew after the 2010 U.S. Census.

"Texas offers no reason to reject the district court’s detailed factual findings regarding the legislature’s discriminatory intent in 2011," argued groups challenging the state legislative districts.

Districts Reinstated

The high court in September voted 5-4 to reinstate the disputed congressional and state voting maps while the justices considered whether to hear arguments. The maps have been used with small variations for the past three elections.

In the congressional case, the lower court ordered the redrawing of districts currently held by Democrat Lloyd Doggett and Republican Blake Farenthold. Doggett’s district stretches from Austin to San Antonio, while Farenthold’s includes Corpus Christi and areas damaged by Hurricane Harvey along the Gulf of Mexico. Farenthold is planning to retire amid reports that he used taxpayer money to settle a sexual harassment claim by a former staff member.

Texas gained four new congressional seats after the 2010 Census counted 4.3 million new Texans, almost 90 percent of whom were Hispanic or black. State lawmakers, however, drew no new districts favoring minority voters, a group that tends to choose Democratic candidates.

The cases, which have bounced up and down the court system for years, are part of a flurry of election litigation involving Texas, which is also fighting a suit over its voter-identification law.

Every voter map Texas has created since 1970 has been challenged in court by civil rights groups representing the minority citizens who’ve steadily eroded the state’s historic white majority.

The cases are Abbott v. Perez, 17-586 (congressional map), and Abbott v. Perez, 17-626 (state legislative map).

— With assistance by Laurel Brubaker Calkins

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