Divided High Court Blocks Orders to Redraw Texas Election Maps

(CN) – In two orders issued late Tuesday, a divided U.S. Supreme Court blocked rulings from federal judges that invalidated two congressional districts in Texas and nine state House districts.

Last month, a three-judge panel in San Antonio federal court, led by Judge Xavier Rodriguez, found that Texas lawmakers “purposefully maintained … intentional discrimination” to disadvantage minority voters when it adopted a gerrymandered district map in 2013.

The panel ordered the state to redraw nine Texas House of Representatives district maps before the 2018 elections, nine days after the same court ordered the state to redraw two congressional districts.

But in a 5-4 vote Tuesday, the Supreme Court granted the state’s request to stay the rulings, pending appeal. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagen would have denied the state’s request, according to the pair of single-page stay orders.

Justice Samuel Alito, responsible for appeals from the Fifth Circuit, had temporarily stayed the lower court’s rulings in a single-page order Aug. 28. His order had put off a court hearing until the full Supreme Court could weigh in.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has said that the map the state Legislature adopted in 2013 was largely based off of a map that the district court had drawn in 2012, to address discrimination claims made about an earlier map.

“The Supreme Court confirmed what the rest of us already knew: Texas should be able to use maps in 2018 that the district court itself adopted in 2012 and Texas used in the last three election cycles,” Paxton said in a statement Tuesday. “In 2012 the Supreme Court ordered the district court to adopt lawful maps, and we believe it did so. We are eager to proceed with this case in the high court.”

The disputed congressional districts are CD 27, which stretches from the Central Texas town of Lockhart to the coastal communities along the Gulf of Mexico, and CD 35, which runs from Austin to San Antonio in a narrow swath along Interstate Highway 35.

U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi, represents CD 27, while CD 35 is represented by Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin.

The district court also found that nine Texas House districts in four counties — Dallas, Nueces, Bell and Tarrant — had been intentionally drawn in a way that discriminates against minority voters.

The Supreme Court’s orders mean that the state could potentially use the disputed maps for the 2018 elections.

State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, said in a statement Wednesday that the Supreme Court’s orders could prolong “Texas’ longstanding assault on the rights of voters.”

“With multiple findings of intentional discrimination in the past few months — including the House and Congressional electoral maps and the voter ID law — Texas’ repeated disregard for voting rights has been firmly established in court,” Rodriguez said.

“How many times do courts have to find that Texas intentionally discriminated against minority voters before Texas is bailed back into preclearance under the Voting Rights Act?” he added.

State election officials have said that they would need new district maps by October to meet deadlines for sending out voter registration cards for next year’s election.

December is the filing deadline for candidates in Texas.

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