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Supreme Court to enter tangled Texas redistricting case

The Supreme Court on Monday will hear arguments over whether federal judges overstepped their authority when they revised state and congressional districts drawn by the Texas Legislature.

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Lawyers for Texas say the judges usurped the role of elected lawmakers in drawing their own election maps.

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“Without making any finding of an actual or likely violation of law, the court simply redrew Texas’ election maps based on its own notions of ‘neutral principles,’ the ‘collective public good,’ and ‘fairness and impartiality,’ " Washington lawyer Paul Clement wrote in the Texas brief to the Supreme Court. “Those are not standards that courts can meaningfully apply,” he said.

“Redistricting is an inherently political process, and – in the absence of some violation of statutory or constitutional law – it is wholly committed to the discretion of state legislatures,” Mr. Clement wrote.

Texas says the three-judge court should have endorsed the Legislature’s maps on an interim basis to allow the election to move forward while challenges to the overall redistricting plan continued in court.

Short of that, Texas lawyers say, the judges should have made a preliminary determination of those portions of the new maps likely to violate the law or the Constitution, and then altered only those portions of the maps to create interim maps for the approaching election.

Critics slam Legislature's maps

Opponents of the Legislature’s newly drawn districts say using the state’s plan as a baseline for interim maps would allow the state to pull off an end run around the election laws and other protections for minority voters.

The Texas Legislature’s redistricting plan “was largely governed by unlawful racial considerations, as Texas legislators knew precisely how best to … pick off, split up, and drown out minority voters to ensure that minority population gains would not translate into minority electoral gains,” wrote Austin lawyer Renea Hicks in a brief to the high court.

By law, congressional districts must be recalculated every 10 years to reflect updated US census figures. The Texas population increased by more than 4 million during the past decade. The increase qualified the state for four new congressional districts, boosting the Texas congressional delegation from 32 to 36 seats.

Minority groups and candidates argued in their lawsuit that because Latinos accounted for 65 percent of the increased population, they deserved additional Latino-majority districts in both Congress and the Texas House.

“Texas has not added a Latino-opportunity congressional district since 1991,” wrote Nina Perales of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, in a brief to the court.

“Since the 1990 census, the Latino population in Texas increased by 5.1 million; the Anglo population increased by 1.1 million,” Perales wrote. “Nevertheless, Texas crafted a congressional plan that carves away majority-Latino counties from majority-Latino districts and uses race to change districts to ensure that Latinos cannot elect their candidates of choice.”

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