Supreme Court Steps Into Texas Redistricting Fight

The Supreme Court on Friday night announced that it will hear oral argument to consider the constitutionality of Texas redistricting plans drawn up by a lower federal court.

A three-judge panel in San Antonio put forward its own interim redistricting plans over Thanksgiving weekend. It determined that the Texas legislature failed to adequately account for the state's increase in Hispanic residents when redrawing its state and federal voting districts. The Supreme Court has now stayed those plans and ordered an expedited briefing schedule in advance of oral argument on Jan. 9.

When the 2010 census reported an increase of 4.2 million Texans, the Texas legislature was required to redraw the state's voting districts to comply with the federal Constitution's one person-one vote command. But civil rights groups challenged the redrawn districts for both houses of the state legislature as well as the United States House of Representatives. They claimed that the new maps drawn up by the Republican-controlled legislature violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by diluting the votes of 2.8 million Hispanics who have moved to Texas since 2000.

Under the Voting Rights Act, Texas and most other Southern states, counties and townships with histories of race-based voter suppression have to clear any changes to their election procedures with the Department of Justice or a three-judge court in D.C. Texas had submitted its plans to the D.C. panel, which had yet to make any decision on the state's compliance with the landmark civil rights law, when the San Antonio panel -- finding the maps too flawed for use in the approaching state primary elections -- threw out the plans and replaced them with plans of its own.

The Court's action on Friday comes in response to the Texas attorney general's request last week for Justice Antonin Scalia, who oversees the federal courts in Texas, to block the redistricting plans.

The expedited schedule set by the Court reflects the time-sensitive nature of the cases, Perry v. Perez and Perry v. Davis, which will require a decision from the justices in time for the state's primaries in March.

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