Supreme Court appears closely divided over Texas district maps

The Supreme Court was sharply divided on Tuesday as the justices considered a lower court opinion that invalidated co...

Posted: Apr 24, 2018 10:41 PM
Updated: Apr 24, 2018 10:41 PM

The Supreme Court was sharply divided on Tuesday as the justices considered a lower court opinion that invalidated congressional and statehouse maps in Texas, holding that they discriminated against minority voters.

Last fall, in an early indication that the case could break down along ideological lines, the justices split 5-4 and voted to freeze the lower court opinion while the court considered the case.

It was that order, which likely means that the disputed maps will be used in the upcoming midterm elections, that infuriated the liberal justices on Tuesday who suggested that the Supreme Court had stepped in prematurely and therefore had no jurisdiction to hear the challenge.

While the district court had issued a ruling invalidating the districts it had not yet taken the final step of telling the state how to redraw the maps.

What ends the case, said Justice Sonia Sotomayor, is a "final injunction." Other liberal justices, Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer, had a similar sentiment.

The conservatives did not focus as much on the threshold question of the court's ability to decide the issue and Chief Justice John Roberts suggested that Texas legislature deserved "some presumption of good faith."

The case is the latest in a series of voting rights cases the Supreme Court is hearing this term including two partisan gerrymander cases and another challenge to Ohio's system for purging voters from its rolls.

Josh Douglas, an election law expert at the University of Kentucky College of Law, says that if the justices rule in favor of the challengers in the case and find intentional discrimination in how the Republicans drew the lines, it could be a watershed ruling.

"If the court rules against Texas, the justices would be saying that the Republican-controlled legislature had an improper racial motive," he said.

Tuesday, the conservative justices focused on the unusual circumstances in the case and did not seem inclined to agree with the lower court, in the case that has been caught up in the courts for almost a decade.

After the last census, voting rights groups such as the Southern Coalition for Social Justice and the Mexican American Legal Defense Education Fund challenged the maps drawn in 2011 by the Republican-led legislature.

They won the challenge when a three-judge court of the District Court for the Western District of Texas held that the maps were intentionally discriminatory and proceeded to order new interim maps to be drawn up for the next election. The court stressed that its ruling was not a final judgment, but necessary due to impending election deadlines.

The legislature subsequently adopted those maps -- called Plan C235 -- on a permanent basis while the litigation continued.

After a trial in 2017, the district court then invalidated two districts of Plan C235. The court noted that "specific portions" of the 2011 plans that were found to be discriminatory or unconstitutional "continue unchanged." In a similar case the court also invalidated several state legislative districts.

"The discriminatory taint was not removed by the Legislature's enactment of the court's interim plans, because the Legislature engaged in no deliberative process to remove any such taint, and in fact intended any such taint to be maintained but be safe from remedy," wrote US District Court Judge Xavier Rodriguez of the Western District of Texas.

Lawyers for Texas say the maps should stand, particularly because they were imposed by the court and adopted by the legislature. Texas Solicitor General Scott Keller told the justices that the legislature was not "trying to pull a fast one," and he suggested that the district court's opinion was wrong to say the legislature had engaged in intentional discriminated when it adopted -- as its own -- the same plans that the court had ordered the state to use in the 2012 election.

"The Texas legislature did not have a racially discriminatory purpose when it adopted the entire court-ordered congressional remedial plan and virtually all of the remedial state house plan," Keller said.

In court, the conservative justices suggested they agreed with Texas. Roberts said there was a "strong" argument that the legislature adopted a court drawn plan, and asked if that didn't demonstrate "good faith" on the part of the law makers. Justice Samuel Alito agreed that the district court drew the interim plans after a "thorough analysis."

Lawyers for the challengers emphasized that when the district court allowed the maps back in 2012, it was simply a preliminary ruling before an impending election. Allison Riggs of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice said that afterward the court "sussed out" a troubling pattern aimed at discriminating against minorities. She said the only reason the state had adopted the plans was in order to end the litigation and muffle the voices of minorities.

The ruling in the case is due by late June, but Douglas points out that in 2020, after the next census, states will have to once again redraw lines.

"Depending on the court's ruling, the Texas case could have a meaningful impact on how states all over the country draw their next maps," he said.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 468498

Reported Deaths: 9100
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison31907468
Hinds30552569
DeSoto29532342
Jackson22868335
Rankin21016355
Lee14393214
Madison13961263
Jones13053215
Forrest12879231
Lauderdale11244292
Lowndes10148171
Lamar9972122
Pearl River8569208
Lafayette8008136
Hancock7110107
Oktibbeha6764117
Washington6756146
Neshoba6350200
Monroe6304156
Warren6267159
Panola6036122
Pontotoc599292
Bolivar5960143
Marshall5917115
Union558885
Pike5424133
Lincoln5192127
Alcorn509388
George454766
Scott447392
Leflore4377138
Tippah431780
Itawamba429192
Prentiss429074
Copiah423883
Simpson4238108
Wayne419663
Tate418999
Adams4174109
Yazoo411486
Sunflower4057104
Covington404891
Marion399699
Leake389784
Coahoma385996
Newton360273
Grenada3489100
Stone342657
Tishomingo320987
Attala318285
Jasper308261
Winston298191
Clay282672
Chickasaw277464
Clarke271784
Holmes257685
Calhoun256939
Smith241546
Yalobusha215447
Tallahatchie213849
Walthall203457
Lawrence202431
Greene202045
Perry195053
Amite191251
Webster191141
Noxubee173437
Montgomery168652
Jefferson Davis164041
Carroll158936
Tunica146533
Benton137531
Kemper136538
Claiborne124134
Choctaw123824
Humphreys122036
Franklin114127
Quitman100925
Wilkinson98335
Jefferson85832
Sharkey61620
Issaquena1916
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 757893

Reported Deaths: 12784
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1082301712
Mobile694251158
Madison47738562
Baldwin35347420
Shelby34758281
Tuscaloosa32576495
Montgomery32249645
Lee21576200
Calhoun19621363
Morgan19061307
Etowah18363413
Marshall17028252
Houston15881337
St. Clair14724270
Limestone13908178
Elmore13812239
Cullman13756228
Lauderdale12909263
Talladega12124200
DeKalb11705220
Walker10047303
Autauga9371119
Blount9272146
Jackson8970132
Coffee8550150
Colbert8229160
Dale8162142
Escambia632298
Tallapoosa6255165
Covington6214153
Chilton6152128
Russell586753
Franklin558292
Chambers5155127
Dallas4569173
Marion4490114
Clarke447070
Pike439188
Geneva415999
Lawrence4002101
Winston399982
Bibb388975
Barbour334667
Marengo317778
Monroe306844
Butler305878
Pickens296166
Henry288550
Randolph288255
Hale282981
Cherokee275649
Fayette268569
Washington241844
Crenshaw226962
Clay219260
Macon211154
Cleburne205746
Lamar184638
Conecuh173337
Lowndes167856
Coosa160031
Wilcox153033
Bullock145642
Perry132430
Sumter122635
Greene117941
Choctaw71925
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