Ruling Tuesday night, a divided U.S. Supreme Court temporarily blocked a lower-court from redrawing several Texas House and congressional districts that were found to have been created with the intent to discriminate against minority voters.
The delay, granted 5-4, gives Texas time to defend the districts on appeal while continuing with the current maps heading into the 2018 elections. Candidate filing for the March primaries begins in mid-November.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton had asked the Supreme Court to stop a three-judge federal court panel from redrawing two congressional districts and nine state House districts that had been tossed out earlier this summer for discriminating against Latino and African-American voters.
Paxton also asked the high court to let Texas use the 11 districts, as drawn, in the 2018 primary and general elections, arguing that the lower court waited too long by issuing its decisions in mid-August, creating a risk of voter confusion and delays in next year’s primaries.
Tuesday’s order gave no reason for blocking efforts to draw new maps, stating only that proceedings in the lower-court will be halted until the appeal from Texas is ruled upon. The high court’s liberal wing — Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan — would not have stopped efforts to redraw the districts.
The San Antonio-based three-judge panel had concluded that two congressional districts were created by the Republican-controlled Legislature to intentionally discriminate against minority voters, who tend to favor Democrats:
• District 35, held by U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, which the court said was gerrymandered along racial lines to provide Doggett with a Latino primary challenger and to eliminate another district with significant Hispanic and African-American populations that consistently voted for Democrats.
• District 27, held by U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi, which the court said was improperly drawn to reduce the voting strength of Latinos. Now stretching from southern Bastrop County to the Gulf of Mexico, the district originally extended south to Brownsville and was heavily Hispanic.
In a separate ruling about a week later, the same court ordered nine Texas House districts to be redrawn, saying they also were created to discriminate against minority voters.
Hearings to begin work on new districts, set for last week in San Antonio, were canceled after Justice Samuel Alito, who oversees legal matters arising from Texas, blocked proceedings at Paxton’s request and ordered additional information to be provided to the full court.
Paxton praised the ruling, saying he was “eager to proceed with this case in the high court.”
Doggett said the ruling makes it certain that his district will continue unchanged in the 2018 elections.
“Filing for that election begins in only two months,” he said. “I will maintain my active involvement in San Antonio, Austin, San Marcos, Lockhart and the other communities along I-35.”