WASHINGTON (CN) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday ruled that Texas lawmakers illegally gerrymandered one district by race when they drew up federal and state legislative districts in 2011 and later amended them in 2013, limiting the rights and power of black and Hispanic voters there but not in 3 other challenged districts.
“It was the challengers’ burden to show that the 2013 Legislature acted with discriminatory intent when it enacted plans that the court itself had produced,” wrote Justice Samuel Alito in the majority opinion, calling a lower court, three-judge panel’s opinion that the districts were racially gerrymandered a “fundamental legal error. “[The Legislature] was not obligated to show that it had “cured” the unlawful intent that the court attributed to the 2011 Legislature.”
Alito went on to say the Texas Legislature’s efforts to redraw the map added to the argument that they had no intent to make districts discriminatory.
“There is no evidence that the Legislature’s aim was to gain acceptance of plans that it knew were unlawful,” he wrote. “[They] had sound reasons to believe just the opposite.”
But in her dissenting opinion, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote the lower court was correct in their assessment of the map’s racially-charged intent and changes to the map were bound to be problematic. She broke it down into four points:
The Texas court adopted the map plans without “invidious intent.” It then approved the plans only after studying and modifying them under the higher court’s instructions. The legislature then made changes that would have otherwise been found a violation of the Voting Rights Act and, finally, they acted on the Texas court’s thorough review of the maps.
“This disregard of both precedent and fact comes at serious costs to our democracy,” she wrote. “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.”
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton praised the high court's decision in a statement released after the opinion was released. He hailed the court for protecting the state’s right to draw their own legislative districts while rejecting “misguided efforts by unelected federal judges to wrest control of Texas elections from Texas voters.”
“This is a huge win for the Constitution, Texas, and the democratic process,” he said.
Corey Goldstone, media strategist at the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center, was disappointed with the decision, and said the single gerrymander classification of one district was “small potatoes” compared the broader discrimination that is still allowed to proceed in Texas.
He said the court’s decision reinforced the importance of the Voting Rights Act and its ability to aid voters of color who were “either intentionally packed into districts or spread out among districts.”
“This sort of race discrimination should have no place in our democracy,” he said.
The underlying legal battle over alleged racial gerrymandering in Texas began as a challenge to district maps drawn by the state's Republican-controlled legislature in 2011.
Under the Voting Rights Act, and because of the state’s history with racial segregation, it's among the states that must submit new voter maps to the Justice Department or a three-judge panel for “pre-clearance” approval.