The Supreme Court on Friday instructed a lower court in Texas to take a fresh look at election maps it had drawn in place of a competing set of maps from the Texas Legislature. The justices said the lower court had not paid enough deference to the Legislature’s choices and had improperly substituted its own values for those of elected officials.
The court’s unanimous decision extends the uncertainty surrounding this major voting-rights case, which could help determine control of the House of Representatives.
“To avoid being compelled to make such otherwise standardless decisions,” the Supreme Court’s unsigned decision said, “a district court should take guidance from the state’s recently enacted plan in drafting an interim plan. That plan reflects the state’s policy judgments on where to place new districts and how to shift existing ones in response to massive population growth.”
Justice Clarence Thomas issued a concurring opinion, saying he would have instructed the elections to proceed under the Legislature’s maps.
The justices acted just 11 days after hearing arguments in the case. Primaries in Texas had already been moved back to April. For those primaries to proceed, officials there said, an answer from the courts was needed by Feb. 1. The two competing sets of maps set out the borders of election districts in Texas for the State Legislature and the House of Representatives on the basis of the most recent 10-year census.
One set of maps was drawn by the Legislature, which is controlled by Republicans. Those maps seem to favor Republican candidates. The other set was drawn by a special three-judge federal court in San Antonio, and it increases the voting power of Hispanic voters and seems to help Democratic candidates.
As many as four House seats hang in the balance, experts in election administration say.
Under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, changes in voting procedures in such states cannot take effect until they have been approved by either the Justice Department or a special three-judge court in Washington.
Texas sought approval from the special Washington court, but it has not yet received an answer, though the special court has indicated that it is unlikely to approve at least some of the Legislature’s map. Because there were no approved maps as the first primaries in Texas loomed, the San Antonio court, which was hearing challenges to the Legislature’s maps under a different part of the Voting Rights Act, drew the competing set of maps.
Officials in Texas asked the Supreme Court to block those judge-drawn maps, saying they did not give enough deference to the Legislature. Paul D. Clement, a lawyer representing Texas, told the justices during arguments that the San Antonio court should have used the legislative map as a starting point while the approval process was pending.
The three cases decided Friday were Perry v. Perez, No 11-713, on the Texas House, Perry v. Davis, No. 11-714, on redistricting the State Senate, and Perry v. Perez, No. 11-715, on the House of Representatives.
This article, "Supreme Court Rejects Judge-Drawn Maps in Texas Redistricting Case," originally appeared in The New York Times.