By a 5-4 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court largely determined that the state’s redistricting maps were lawful, save for HD90 in Tarrant Co., and that the Legislature did not intentionally discriminate when drawing them.
The Court ruled that the lower three-judge court “committed a fundamental legal error” when it placed the burden of proof upon the state to show that the 2013 Legislature “had ‘cured’ the unlawful intent that the court attributed to the 2011 Legislature.” Instead, the lower court should have placed the burden on plaintiffs to “overcome the presumption of legislative good faith and show that the 2013 Legislature acted with invidious intent.”
Nearly a year ago, a three-judge federal panel struck down two congressional districts (CD27 and CD35) and nine state House districts (HD32, HD34, HD54, HD55, HD90, HD93, HD103, HD104 and HD105). The high court stayed those rulings a month later.
“When all the relevant evidence in the record is taken into account, it is plainly insufficient to prove that the 2013 Legislature acted in bad faith and engaged in intentional discrimination,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the majority (PDF). Instead, the record indicates the 2013 Legislature intended “to bring the litigation about the State’s districting plans to an end as expeditiously as possible.” Adopting the court-drawn maps was a valid way to achieve this goal, and the record provided “no evidence that the Legislature thought that the plans were invalid.” Even the changes the Legislature made to HD90 – the only district the high court invalidated – were made “at the behest of minority groups, not out of a desire to discriminate.”
The lower court’s invalidation of CD35 and all but three state House districts were “based entirely on its finding that the 2013 Legislature had not purged its predecessor’s discriminatory intent.” Thus, the high court did not address the specifics of those districts.
The lower court held that CD27, HD32 and H34 were invalid because they had the effect of depriving Hispanics/Latinos of the opportunity to elect candidates of their choice. In the case of CD27, the high court determined that a different, valid Hispanic/Latino opportunity district had been created in CD35, and the geography of the state largely prevents the creation of an additional Hispanic/Latino opportunity district in a compact manner. Only seven are possible, and there are seven, including CD35. The high court made a similar determination with respect to HD32 and HD34, concluding that “it was not possible to divide Nueces Co. into more than one performing Latino district.” A second performing district could be created only by breaking county lines.
The high court upheld the district court’s determination that HD90 was an illegal racial gerrymander. In fact, the state did “not dispute that race was the predominant factor” in its design, but its reasons to believe that doing so was required to satisfy the federal Voting Rights Act were flawed.
The high court also determined it had jurisdiction to take the appeal because the district court’s orders “for all intents and purposes, constituted injunctions.” This issue took up a significant amount of time during oral arguments. The state appealed the lower court’s ruling before it determined a final remedy, which is procedurally unusual.
The case was remanded back to the district court to “consider what if any remedy is appropriate” to satisfy the invalidation of HD90.
In her dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor argued the majority made three “fundamental errors.” First, there was no injunction to “justify its premature intervention” in the case. Second, the majority ignored the lower court’s “unambiguous factual findings” while faulting its supposed shift of the burden of proof. Finally, the majority “selectively parses through the facts” by ignoring standards of review used in past cases. “As a result of these errors, Texas is guaranteed continued use of much of its discriminatory maps.”
Sotomayor argued that “minority voters in Texas – despite constituting a majority of the population within the state – will continue to be underrepresented in the political process.” Their right to vote has been “burdened by the manipulation of district lines specifically designed to target their communities and minimize their political will.”
Atty. Gen. Ken Paxton applauded the ruling. “The court rightly recognized that the Constitution protects the rights of Texans to draw their own legislative districts and rejected the misguided efforts by unelected federal judges to wrest control of Texas elections from Texas voters,” he said in a statement. “Once again, Texans have the power to govern themselves.”
Rep. Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas), chair of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, said he was “clearly disappointed” in the ruling. “Voting rights protections were set back decades with his decision,” he said in a statement. “The Supreme Court’s ruling today is an extension of the Trump Administration’s abuse of power against communities of color.”
In another redistricting case, the high court remanded a North Carolina partisan redistricting case to the district court to reevaluate it in light of the court’s decision on a Wisconsin case last week.
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