The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday appeared divided along ideological lines as it heard a bid by Texas to revive Republican-drawn electoral districts thrown out by a lower court for diluting the clout of black and Hispanic voters.
"Here, when we have a court-ordered remedial plan and we have wholesale acceptance on the congressional side and virtually wholesale acceptance on the state house side, this was not the Legislature trying to pull a fast one on anyone", Texas Solicitor General Scott Keller said at oral arguments this morning.
The maps, adopted in 2013 and challenged by individual voters and civil rights groups representing blacks and Hispanics, were based on court-drawn districts imposed for the 2012 election after prior Republican-draw maps were tossed as racially discriminatory. Austin attorney Max Renea Hicks argued on behalf the parties challenging the US congressional districts, and Allison Riggs, of the voting rights group Southern Coalition for Social Justice, argued for those challenging the state legislative districts. The district court emphasized that the parts of the 2011 plan that it "found to be discriminatory or unconstitutional racial gerrymanders continue unchanged in the 2013 plans". That's not just our opinion, that's the federal court's ruling.
But the 2012 election was just around the corner, so a federal court implemented its own interim maps.
Edwin Kneedler, the US deputy solicitor general arguing on the side of Texas, took issue with the district court giving Texas only three days to decide if it would call a special legislature to try to fix its maps.
After making huge gains during the 2010 midterm election, Republicans were looking to solidify their control of the state - and even expand their majorities in Congress and in the state Legislature.
The Legislature should have taken it as a "starting point" instead of using it as a "mask" for past discrimination, argued Allison Riggs, senior voting rights attorney with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, who is representing some of the map challengers. In 2013, the legislature officially approved the court's map.
The Supreme Court agreed to hear Texas' appeal of the lower court's ruling in January, leading us to Tuesday.
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But Justice Stephen Breyer noted, "The Texas legislation is not insane, it knows how to redistrict ..."
"The work of the district courts has yet to be completed", said MALC attorney Jose Garza.
Republican President Donald Trump's administration backed Texas.
Tuesday's oral arguments were the culmination of nearly a decade of fighting over districts drawn by the Texas Legislature after the 2010 census.
State lawmakers then adopted the court-drawn plans for the state house in 2013 with a few changes, but left the court's drawing of the congressional districts intact.
Someday, perhaps when your grandchildren have grandchildren and the Cowboys have been pried away from some Jones scion's cold, dead hands, Texas will adopt statehouse and congressional maps that are minimally acceptable to all interested parties. A decision from the high court is expected this summer. He says what Texas is doing is illegal. Justice Kagan asked if that would still be an issue if the court had given Texas three weeks. Texas was, in effect, appealing the district court's request that it show up in court with proposals to fix its maps. He invoked a quip once quoted by the late Justice Antonio Scalia, that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting different results.
"More importantly, it doesn't matter whether they wanted to end the litigation or not, it matters how they wanted to end the litigation", Riggs said.
If the Supreme Court sides with Texas, that gambit may prove to have been successful.