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BREAKING: Supreme Court to hear challenge to Texas’ racial gerrymander

This is probably bad news.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) speaks alongside U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) (L), Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) at a 2015 press conference. (Photo by Erich Schlegel/Getty Images)
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) speaks alongside U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) (L), Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) at a 2015 press conference. (Photo by Erich Schlegel/Getty Images)

The Supreme Court announced on Friday that it will hear two cases, both titled Abbott v. Perez, which claim that Texas’ congressional and state legislative districts were drawn to dilute Hispanic voters’ influence. Both cases involve an unusual circumstance where a court-drawn map is being challenged as a racial gerrymander.

As ThinkProgress previously explained about the congressional gerrymandering case:

In 2011, Texas drew congressional districts that did not comply with its obligations under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which required new voting rules to be “precleared” with federal officials in Washington, D.C. before they can take effect. This was before the Supreme Court effectively deactivated Section 5 in its 2013 opinion in Shelby County v. Holder.

With no lawful map in place, the task of drawing interim districts fell to a panel of three federal judges. But their first attempt to do so was vacated by the Supreme Court, which again left the state without valid maps with a primary election looming. A rushed order handed down in March of 2012 laid out interim maps that the state could use in its upcoming primaries — much of which closely resembled the 2011 map enacted by the state legislature.

The court emphasized, however, that “this interim map is not a final ruling on the merits of any claims asserted by the Plaintiffs in this case or any of the other cases consolidated with this case.” It warned that the plaintiffs’ claims “involve difficult and unsettled legal issues as well as numerous factual disputes.” And it alluded to “the need to have the primaries as soon as possible, and the resulting need for the Court to produce an interim map with sufficient time to allow officials to implement the map.”

In 2013, in an effort to insulate the state’s congressional districts from further litigation, the state legislature enacted the interim map on a permanent basis, allowing the hastily drawn map to become the state’s official map. . . .

Texas’ primary argument is that its 2013 maps are shielded from review because they were drawn by a court — even if they were drawn under rushed circumstances, and even if they did, in many respects, use the state-drawn 2011 maps as a template. “Surely,” the state insists in its indignant stay application, “the one safe course for a legislature interested in ending costly redistricting litigation and moving on to other legislative priorities is to adopt a court-ordered remedial map as its own.”

In any event, the Court previously signaled that it is likely to uphold the state’s maps on a party-line vote. In September, the Court granted a stay of lower court’s orders siding against Texas. All five of the Court’s Republicans voted to leave Texas’ Republican-drawn maps in place. All four Democrats voted the other way.

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