Tuesday, August 29, 2017 at 6 a.m.
U.S. Supreme Court has inserted itself into the Texas fight over how the state’s congressional districts are drawn.
As Tropical Storm Harvey continued to roar through Texas, the U.S. Supreme Court quietly issued an order Monday with potentially big implications for voting rights in the state.
Acting alone, Justice Samuel Alito issued a stay in Abbott v. Perez, a federal case that ordered two Texas congressional districts redrawn after finding them racially discriminatory. In real terms, that means Texas can’t fix its allegedly illegal voting maps until the Supreme Court weighs in.
Texas says its districts are fine. Courts have disagreed. In a blistering decision from April, a federal appeals court in San Antonio ruled the state had “turned the Voting Rights Act on its head” when it drew its current congressional districts back in 2011. The court singled out two Texas congressional districts: the 27th, on the Gulf Coast, and the 35th, between Austin and San Antonio.
The 35th, in particular, has become a national symbol for gerrymandering. It starts in Austin and snakes down I-35 for 70 miles, encompassing swaths of north San Antonio. In a 2-1 decision, the three-judge panel found that district was an “improper racial gerrymander.” Likewise, they ruled the 27th intentionally disenfranchised Latino voters.
Although politicos are allowed to redraw districts for partisan reasons, the Voting Rights Act strictly forbids racial or ethnic gerrymandering. “The impact of the plan was certainly to reduce minority voting opportunity statewide, resulting in even less proportional representation for minority voters,” the panel wrote of the current Texas districts.
Texas continues to fight these rulings. In August, judges gave the state three days to figure out how it would redraw its voting maps. Instead, Texas asked the Supreme Court to stay that court…