Giving observers an entire weekend to digest it, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) handed down a ruling on Friday in a Texas Congressional redistricting case that could impact whether minorities are fairly and accurately represented in Congress.
With Texas experiencing explosive growth, primarily from its Latino population, it was awarded four additional seats in the House of Representatives as a result of the 2010 Census. That state’s Republican-led legislature decided to draw the new maps carving out districts where there would be fewer pockets of minority populations most likely to elect Democrats and minority candidates.
Challengers, including several minority groups, asked a Texas federal district court to throw out the maps, arguing that the “… plans discriminate against Latinos and African Americans and dilute their voting strength, notwithstanding the fact that Latinos and African Americans accounted for three-quarters of Texas,” as summarized by the SCOTUS. That court agreed and drew up an interim plan in response to those concerns.
The High Court, in an unsigned Order, now sends the case, Perry v. Perez, back to the district court , admonishing that it “should take guidance from the state’s recently enacted plan in drafting an interim plan,” while also warning them to be careful not to incorporate parts of a state’s plan that might violate the Constitution and Voting Rights Act.
Both sides of the case see glimmers of hope in this decision which doesn’t explicitly reject either the Texas district court’s plan or the Texas legislature’s scheme.
In essence, the High Court wanted the lower court to assign more careful consideration to the experts: in this case the state legislature which knows its jurisdiction best, and not substitute its judgment for those specialists. The Justices said it was unclear whether the district court followed the right standard when it drew up its own maps.
The Texas case was the first in a series of cases that are working their way up to the Supreme Court over how the 1964 Voting Rights Acts is being applied and possibly impacted by Republican-led state legislatures.
In fact, a few hours after the Texas case the SCOTUS said a separate West Virginia plan violated the “one-person, one-vote” standard. It signals that the Court will not permit the redistricting efforts to deviate too far from the post-segregation era gains. In the West Virginia case, the justices backed a county in the state which challenged the state’s decision to move 2,000 residents under its jurisdiction to another county. That move denied the county a representative in Congress.
From these two decisions today, it appears that the Supreme Court may become the arbiter or Congressional redistricting – something the Obama Administration is not comfortable with. It’s eyeing the Court carefully. In the meantime, it looks like the SCOTUS is taking a balanced approach, however, acknowledging states expertise in carving out their own districts while recognizing that the soul of the Voting Rights Act protections must remain intact and recognized by redistrictors in an effort to maintain hard fought gains.