The Supreme Court dismissed on Monday a lower court ruling that said Texas went too far in its congressional redistricting maps in 2013. Critics of the maps had argued the maps amounted to discrimination against certain minority groups.
In a separate case, the court also refused to enter the fray in a dispute in North Carolina over its political redistricting plan.
In the Texas case, the Court split 5-4 over claims that its 2013 State House and congressional maps were unconstitutional. Lower courts had ruled the formulation of maps violated the Voting Rights Act because they discriminated against Latino and African-American voters.
Today’s Supreme Court’s decision over the 2013 maps divided mostly on ideological lines. Conservative members of the Court ruled that the maps Texas adopted were not necessarily tainted by discrimination that lower court judges had noted existed in maps the state had drawn up in 2011.
“The Texas court faulted the 2013 Legislature for failing to take into account the problems with the 2011 plans that the D. C. court identified in denying preclearance … but the basis for that criticism is hard to understand,” wrote Justice Samuel Alito in the majority opinion.
However, Alito and the majority opinion, did find that one state legislative district (House District 90), was gerrymandered (or redrawn for opportunistic political purposes) along racial lines. The map for that specific district now has to be redrawn.
In a sharply worded critique, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, wrote, “This disregard of both precedent and fact comes at serious costs to our democracy. It means that, after years of litigation and undeniable proof of intentional discrimination, minority voters in Texas — despite constituting a majority of the population within the State — will continue to be underrepresented in the political process.”
Politico reports that gerrymandering critics say Monday’s Court decisions show the need to reform how state political maps are drawn.
“It is time for voters to take up the fight to pass redistricting reform at the state and local level because a narrow Supreme Court majority under Chief Justice John Roberts has failed to protect the voting rights of minority communities,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, President of Common Cause, in a statement.
Separately, the Court sent the North Carolina case — a dispute over its congressional map — back to the lower court. In early 2019, Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented against a majority opinion that blocked a lower court’s order to redraw the map.
The majority opinion ruled that the state’s existing congressional map would be allowed for the current election cycle. That had overturned a lower court order that would have forced the state to redraw the map, something Sotomayor and Ginsburg, had said they would have allowed.
Monday’s Supreme Court decision means that the case now returns to the lower court for further consideration. The two cases the Court decided today follow two other cases (in Wisconsin and Maryland) it took up last week. The Court allowed their maps to stand for the time being.
“The common thread in the Court’s gerrymandering decisions this term has been to generally make it harder for plaintiffs to bring these claims,” said CNN legal analyst and law professor Steve Vladeck.