Supreme Court gives a win to Texas GOP on congressional lines

The U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington.
(Alex Wong / Getty Images)

The Supreme Court gave at least a temporary win to Texas Republicans in the fight over redrawing its congressional districts, ruling that the election districts should mostly follow the lines set by the state’s lawmakers.

The unsigned ruling tells judges that they should be guided by “the state’s policy judgments” on where to draw new districts for use in this year’s elections.

At issue are 36 Texas seats in Congress, an increase of four this year due to a population surge in the Lone Star State.

Texas lawmakers drew a plan that gave the GOP a good shot at winning the four new seats, but Latino activists and the Obama administration lawyers objected. They said the GOP plan denied fair representation to the growing Latino population.


In response to these objections, judges in San Antonio drew an “interim map” that gave Latinos and Democrats an advantage in the contest for the new seats. These judges noted that the Texas plan had not been “pre-cleared” in Washington under the terms of the Voting Rights Act.

The Supreme Court nonetheless set aside the judge’s plan and said Friday that the interim map should follow the guidelines set by the state’s lawmakers.

“Redistricting is primarily the duty and responsibility of the state,” the court said. “The failure of a state’s newly enacted plan to gain pre-clearance prior to an upcoming election does not, by itself, require a court to take up the legislature’s task.”

“In most circumstances, the state’s last enacted plan simply remains in effect until the new plan receives pre-clearance,” the justices said.


The high court acknowledged that Texas had to change its electoral districts because of the huge shifts in population. The old map could not be used in this year’s election. But if the judges have to draw an interim map, their plan should “reflect the state’s policy judgments on where to place new districts or how to shift existing ones in response to massive population growth.”

The 11-page order specifically faults the judges in San Antonio for drawing a new “minority coalition” district in the Dallas area. They had “no basis for doing so,” the high court said.

There were no dissents from the order. Justice Clarence Thomas added a short separate opinion to repeat his view that the Voting Rights Act should be struck down as unconstitutional.